Question & Answer

Q: What is aspartame?

Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener which is used to sweeten a variety of foods and beverages, and as a tabletop sweetener. Since aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, very little is needed to adequately sweeten foods. Consequently, the calories in foods can be substantially reduced, and in many products be almost eliminated, by using aspartame in place of sugar.

Q: Where is aspartame used?

Aspartame is used in foods and beverages in more than 90 countries around the world. It is used widely in major industrialized countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, West Germany and Japan.

Q: Is aspartame safe?

Yes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that aspartame is safe for the general public, including diabetics, pregnant and nursing women, and children. A small segment of the population – those people with a rare hereditary disease called phenylketonuria (PKU) – are advised not to consume products with aspartame; consequently, all products sweetened with aspartame are clearly labeled.

The safety of aspartame has been affirmed not only by the FDA, but also by leading independent health groups such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Diabetes Association, The Epilepsy Institute, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Moreover, FDA has reaffirmed the safety of aspartame 26 times over a period of 23 years.

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. Aspartame has also undergone extensive safety and toxicology testing including three two year bioassays in animals for cancer. One of these was a bioassay in pregnant rats and their offspring. In these tests it was clearly shown that aspartame is not carcinogenic and does not cause cancer.

Q: When did the FDA approve aspartame?

In 1981 aspartame was approved by the FDA for use in powdered mixes and as a tabletop sweetener. In 1983 FDA approved aspartame for use in carbonated beverages, and it has since been approved for use in other foods and beverages.

Q: What regulatory agencies have declared aspartame as safe?

In addition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, aspartame has been reviewed and found safe by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the World Health Organization, the Scientific Committee for Food of the European Union, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and regulatory agencies in more than 95 countries. In addition, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Diabetes Association, The Epilepsy Institute, and the American Academy of Family Physicians have all concluded aspartame is safe.

Q: How many processed foods have aspartame in them?

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 5,000 beverages, foods and other products such as cocoa mixes, yogurt-type products, cereal, fruit juice drinks, refrigerated flavored milk drinks, breath mints, and a variety of other products.

Q: Are there alternative additives to aspartame?

There are basically two types of alternatives: the caloric kind, such as sugar and honey, and the low-caloric alternatives such as saccharin.

Q: Does aspartame cause cancer?

No. There is absolutely no association between aspartame and cancer of any kind. It is physiologically impossible for aspartame to be a carcinogen – it never enters the bloodstream and thus cannot travel to essential organs, including the brain. 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 accumulates in the body over time. Aspartame is broken down in the gastrointestinal tract to small amounts of common dietary components including the amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. We consume these same components in much greater amounts in common foods, such as milk, meat, fruits and vegetables. The body handles these amino acids in the same way it handles them from other food sources. Aspartame itself never enters the blood stream.