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What you should know about ... aspartame.

Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener used in foods and beverages in more than 70 countries around the world. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. The calories in foods can be substantially reduced, and in many products be almost eliminated, by using aspartame in place of sugar.

Aspartame is marketed in the United States under the brand name NutraSweet.[R] It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1981 for use in powdered mixes and as a tabletop sweetener. In 1983, it was approved for use in carbonated beverages, and has since been used to sweeten many other foods and beverages.

Prior to its approval, aspartame underwent one of the most thorough scientific reviews ever conducted. Regulatory bodies consider it one of the most widely tested ingredients in the food supply. The safety of aspartame has been affirmed by the FDA and leading independent health groups such as the American Medical Association.

The rapid growth and widespread use of aspartame in foods has led to much publicity, and with it, a variety of questions about this ingredient. This brochure answers questions most frequently asked by consumers about aspartame.

* What is aspartame?

Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener. It is used to sweeten a variety of foods and beverages and as a tabletop sweetener.

* Why is aspartame used?

The calories in foods can be substantially reduced, and in many products be almost eliminated, by substituting aspartame for sugar or other caloric sweeteners. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, is good tasting, enhances citrus and other fruit flavors, and does not contribute to tooth decay.

* What is aspartame made of?

Aspartame is made by joining two protein components, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and a small amount of methanol. Aspartic acid and phenylalanine are building blocks of protein and are found naturally in all protein-containing foods, including meats, grains and dairy products. Methanol is found naturally in the body and in many foods such as fruit and vegetable juices.

* How is aspartame handled by the body?

Aspartame is digested just like any other protein. Upon digestion, aspartame breaks down into its basic components and is absorbed into the blood. Neither aspartame nor its components accumulate in the body over time.

* What types of products contain aspartame?

Aspartame is used to sweeten many prepared foods, as a tabletop sweetener, and in simple recipes that do not require lengthy heating. It is used in more than 150 major brands of beverages, foods and other products in the following categories: * tabletop sweetener * cocoa mix * topping mix * yogurt-type products * shake mix * cereal * gelatin mix * instant breakfast mix * frozen novelties * milk flavor additives * wine coolers * chewable multivitamins * carbonated soft drinks * fruit syrups * powdered soft drinks * puddings and pie fillings * fruit juice drinks * instant coffee and tea mixes * refrigerated tea * ready-to-eat gelatin * chewing gum * frozen desserts * refrigerated flavored milk

beverages * breath mints * over-the-counter

pharmaceuticals * fruit spreads & toppings

* Can aspartame be used in cooking or baking?

Aspartame's components separate when heated over time, resulting in a loss of sweetness. Therefore, aspartame is not recommended for use in recipes requiring lengthy heating or baking. It may, however, be added at the end of the cooking cycle in some recipes. If a food containing aspartame is inadvertently heated, it would still be safe, but would simply not provide the desired sweetness.

The FDA is reviewing a new way of using aspartame in baking, in which the ingredient is released at the end of the cooking cycle, thereby retaining its sweetness.

* Is aspartame safe?

As a governmental agency charged with safeguarding the American food supply, the FDA has concluded that aspartame is safe for the general public, including diabetics, pregnant and nursing women, and children.

Persons with a rare hereditary disease known as phenylketonuria (PKU) must control their phenylalanine intake from all sources, including aspartame. These persons are diagnosed at birth by a blood test performed on all babies. Products sweetened with aspartame carry a statement on the label that they contain phenylalanine.

* How much aspartame may people consume?

The FDA uses the concept of an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for many food additives, including aspartame. The ADI represents an intake level that if maintained each day throughout a person's lifetime would be considered safe by a wide margin. The ADI for aspartame has been set at 50 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight.

* How much aspartame are people actually consuming today?

The FDA monitors the amount of aspartame that Americans consume through ongoing dietary surveys. The average daily intake of Americans who consume aspartame has remained fairly constant since July 1984, averaging less than two percent of the FDA guideline for acceptable consumption. The most frequent consumers of aspartame are consuming only four to seven percent of the ADI.

* How much aspartame are children consuming?

Because of children's small size, they consume proportionately larger amounts of all food ingredients than adults in relation to their body weight. Among children aged 2-to-5, average consumption of aspartame is three percent of the acceptable daily intake. The most frequent consumers of aspartame among children have been found to consume from 4-to-16 percent of the ADI.

* Is it safe to consume more aspartame than the ADI?

Yes. Since the ADI has a built-in safety factor and represents a guideline for intake every day over a lifetime, occasional use of aspartame can be greater than the ADI without concern for safety. Tests with humans consuming much greater levels of aspartame than the ADI have shown no adverse effects.

Aspartame's ADI is the sweetness equivalency of consuming one pound of sugar per day. This amount of sweetness would be difficult for an individual to consume during one day, let alone every day over many months or years.

* How was aspartame tested before it was approved for use in foods?

Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly studied ingredients in the food supply. It was tested in more than 100 scientific studies prior to its approval by the FDA in 1981. These tests were conducted in animals and humans, including normal adults and children, lactating women and persons with diabetes, obesity and special genetic conditions. Aspartame was tested in amounts many times higher than individuals could consume in the diet. Today scientists continue to conduct new studies on this sweetener as they do many other ingredients used widely in the food supply. The FDA also monitors and evaluates all research on this and other food ingredients.

* Have other regulatory bodies reviewed aspartame's safety?

Yes. Aspartame has been approved for use by more than 70 nations worldwide. It is used widely in major industrialized countries such as the United Kingdom, West Germany and Japan. Aspartame is the only low-calorie sweetener permitted in foods and beverages in Canada.

Aspartame has been reviewed and found safe by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and World Health Organization. It also has been reviewed and approved for use by the Scientific Committee for Food of the European Community.

* Have independent physicians and dieticians reviewed the safety of aspartame?

Yes. The American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs reviewed research on aspartame and found the sweetener to be safe. The American Dietetic Association also has concluded that moderate use of aspartame is acceptable as part of a healthy diet.

* Can pregnant women consume aspartame?

Yes. A task force of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition concluded that aspartame is safe for both the mother and developing baby. Of course, it is important for all pregnant women to consult with their doctors regarding nutritional needs during pregnancy.

* Can persons with diabetes consume aspartame?

Yes. The American Diabetes Association has stated that aspartame is acceptable as a sugar substitute and can be included in a diabetic meal plan.

* Is aspartame safe for people with epilepsy?

Yes. The Epilepsy Institute, an organization devoted to people suffering from seizure-related problems, has concluded that aspartame is not related to seizures among epileptic patients.

* Has aspartame been found to affect children's behavior?

No. Studies have shown that aspartame consumption does not affect the behavior of children, including those diagnosed as hyperactive or with attention deficit disorder.

* Can aspartame cause visual damage?

No. Scientists know that only huge quantities of methanol can affect vision. A small amount of methanol is formed when aspartame is digested or when its components separate. However, the amount of methanol one could possibly consume from aspartame is well within safe levels, and is actually less than that found in many fruits and vegetable juices.

* Can aspartame cause weight gain?

No. Studies have shown that foods and beverages sweetened with aspartame can be an effective part of a weight management program. Obviously, aspartame is not a drug stimulating weight loss; it does make possible low-calorie foods and beverages for those wishing to control their caloric intake.

* Do some people have adverse reactions to aspartame?

There is no scientific evidence that aspartame is linked to adverse reactions in people. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed some 500 consumer complaints related to aspartame in 1984. CDC concluded that there was no specific group of symptoms clearly related to aspartame consumption.

The FDA has investigated all complaints since 1984, and has stated that there is "no consistent or unique pattern of symptoms reported with respect to aspartame that can be casually linked to its use." Individuals who have concerns about possible adverse reactions to aspartame should contact their physicians.

This health education material has been reviewed favorably by the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation

For additional information, contact: IFIC International Food Information Council 1100 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Suite 430 Washington, D.C. 20036
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Food Information Council
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Pamphlet by: International Food Information Council
Article Type:Pamphlet
Date:May 1, 1991
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