Do you drink diet sodas or beverages that states “ZERO CALORIES” at the front label? If yes, have you asked yourself what makes it “ZERO CALORIES” well in fact it taste sweet? The second question, when answered, would lead to discussion about aspartame. What is aspartame and what is aspartame made of?
Aspartame is a non-saccharide artificial sweetener being used today as sugar substitute for some foods and beverages. As a non-saccharide or non carbohydrate based product, it does not have any calories thus great for diet beverages. It is about 180 times sweeter than sugar thus being used in very small amounts.
James Sclatter accidentally discovered aspartame in 1965 while he was working on a drug that prevents ulcer. He combined aspartic acid and phenylalanine and noticed that the combination produced a sweet taste. Aspartame was first sold under the brand name “NutraSweet” and since 2009 it has been sold under the brand name “AminoSweet”.
Aspartame breaks down easily when heated thus not a great choice as a sugar substitute when baking. When stored in room temperature, little pockets of aspartame can last not more than a year. Studies have shown that aspartame breaks down under high pH level and can only last a month when used in diet sodas.
A lot of people prefer he traditional sugar than aspartame because of some factor. One factor is that the sweetness of aspartame tends to linger in the mouth for quite some time thus it was tagged as a “long sweetener”. Another factor is the possibility of causing health problems when consuming aspartame such as cancer.
After its approval from the U.S Food and Drug Administration for use in food products in 1974, aspartame’s safety has been the subject of many political and medical debates. Studies conducted on rats in the year 1970s have shown negative effects of aspartame but recently, the medical communities of Europe and America dismissed the studies and have come up with tests that support the safety of aspartame. A medical review in 2007 has concluded that scientific evidences indicate that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as non-nutritive sweetener.
When aspartame is broken down, it produces phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is a health threat for those who have phenylketonuria or PKU. The phenylalanine would make the body of a person with PKU produce a lot of tyrosine. Patients with PKU do not have the capability to breakdown tyrosine because of the lacking of an enzyme called phenylalanine hydroxylase.