Living with Dietary Restrictions: Aspartame

When viewing blogs in our Living with Dietary Restrictions series, you will notice the topics vary.  Sometimes we will cover foods or products a person must avoid due to an allergy and other times we will discuss foods avoided by choice–and this time we’re talking about aspartame.

As a restaurant owner, you most likely have this product in holders on your customer’s tables or serve it to them in a beverage form.  Schools; it’s in many of the cereals and yogurts you serve your students for breakfast.  And it’s usually placed in break rooms all over the country available for everyone’s use.  So if it’s this popular and frequently used, what’s everyone talking about?

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener approved by the FDA in 1981 which many have called “one of the most controversial additives out there.”

Be Food Smart describes it as “created from aspartic acid and phenylalanine and is about 200 times sweeter than sugar.  This sweetener is found in thousands of food products including gum, many diet drinks and those labeled ‘sugar free.’ It is not heat stable and therefore is not used in foods that require cooking.”

Also, with that sugar free label, it is something many people trying to lose weight or avoiding sugar purchase to get their sweet fix without the calories.

Is it a sweet fix that’s too good to be true?

While people aren’t getting sick left and right, aspartame been linked to premature childbirth and numerous health issues enough to raise concern.

Be Food Smart lists possible effects as “everything from brain tumors, lymphoma, and cancer, fibromyalgia, to headaches, dizziness and insomnia.  Aspartame contains phenylalanine and must be avoided by people with phenylketunuria (PKU), a rare genetic condition.”

Another interesting correlation is when effects of aspartame have been similar to those of multiple sclerosis (MS)—which many have dispelled as a myth.  But there’s always a correlation somewhere that makes one question.

Ryan Fraley of Indianapolis has an involuntary itch usually on the left side of his body, frequently in his arm or face.

“It comes and goes, but gets worse with stress and lack of sleep,” he says.  “Aspartame doesn’t cause it, but does make it much, much worse.”

Fraley says he can’t prove the correlation between the twitch and consumption of aspartame clinically.  However, he realized by removing products containing aspartame from of his diet as best he could, it reduced the amount of twitches.

“It has gone back to an occasional annoyance,” he says.

While some medical experts and people like Fraley can connect the consumption of aspartame to health issues, many have consumed this product for years and haven’t had a single problem.  It’s been used in the food industry for decades now and while controversial, it’s not making headline news in the U.S.

As a restaurant owner, school food nutritionist, or anyone with these products in your facility, have you considered other sweetener alternatives or removing these products all together?  Or is it something you just aren’t too concerned about.  After all, the possibility of a customer not having sweetener for their morning coffee or their diet soda during lunch could influence them to go somewhere else.

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