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Additives and Preservatives: What is Aspartame

aspartame found in diet food products

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used in diet drinks, yoghurts, chocolate and other food items of a similar nature. It was discovered in 1965 and was approved for use in the food industry in 1981.

Aspartame is made from aspartic acid and phenylalanine which are both naturally occurring amino acids. As Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than standard cane sugar, the amount required to sweeten food is much less than that of sugar. However, despite this, many people are worried that Aspartame may be bad for your health.

Why Avoid Aspartame

Most websites will tell you that there is no link to Aspartame and health issues. However, they will advise you to stay away from it if you have certain conditions such as phenylketonuria (the inability to process the amino acid Phenylalanine), or if you are taking medication for schizophrenia.

The Mercola website, on the other hand, has nothing nice to say about Aspartame. They state that too high a consumption of these amino acids can cause neuron damage resulting in problems such as MS, Parkinson’s disease, Hypoglycemia, hormonal problems, Dementia, Epilepsy, brain lesions, Alzheimer’s disease and Neuroendocrine disorders. Lots of bad words! I suggest you read the article if you want more information – there’s quite a bit.

How to Avoid Aspartame

If you are unsure as to Aspartame’s safety, the best bet would be to leave it out of your diet or only eat it occasionally. This of course, is becoming increasingly difficult as our governments and health agencies realize that excess standard sugar causes diabetes, heart problems and a myriad of other complaints, and this in turn encourages our food manufacturers to replace sugar with Aspartame. (Read my related article on South Africa’s sugar tax).

Ultimately, the end decision lies with each and every one of us as we make food choices for ourselves and our families. If you do not suffer from diabetes or a related ailment, there are many other sugar alternatives now on the market including:

  • Ethical sources of honey
  • Fruit juices
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Coconut sugar
  • Rice syrup
  • Maple syrup (a bit pricey in South Africa!)
  • Agave syrup

aspartame found in diet food productsThese above options do at least have a higher nutritional content than standard white sugar and as a result may be a better choice. Of course, everything in moderation!

We use small amounts of standard sugar and honey. Coconut sugar is delicious and would be too much of a temptation to have in my cupboards! Another tip I have learnt is that adding cinnamon makes food seem to be sweeter than it actually is, allowing you to cut down on the sugar you require (useful for porridge and yoghurt).

I would love to know what your family’s sweetener of choice is.

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