Losing weight may be ranked as one of the top three New Year’s resolutions every year but let’s face it, only a small percentage of succeed by the time the year’s halfway mark hits. And we’re guessing that if you’ve got a few pounds to lose, you know the likely saboteur. You’ve Googled how to lose weight and seen that one of the top hits is to—surprise, surprise—cut out sugar. Easier said than done, right?
One in every five calories that Canadians consume comes from sugar. The sweet stuff is everywhere so the question is how do you banish it, or at least reduce it, from your diet?
There are hundreds of products on the market that claim to satisfy sugar cravings without the calories. According to product labels, many of these contain low and zero calorie sweeteners such as aspartame. A popular alternative to sugar, aspartame is a common ingredient in many diet soft drinks, desserts and chewing gum brands and is also available as a table-top sweetener. But is it safe?
Despite rigorous evaluation by government health authorities including Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority, there are endless stories and myths about the dangers and downsides of aspartame. Dr. Berna Magnuson, Fellow of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences separates the fact from fiction about aspartame—once and for all.
5 ASPARTAME MYTHS DEBUNKED
Myth 1: Aspartame causes cancer
Fact: Multiple studies in animals and humans have found no link between aspartame intake and cancer. The myth started to spread after a laboratory in Italy reported that cancer was found in mice and rats after being given high doses of aspartame. Following a thorough investigation, international experts and food regulatory agencies dismissed the results because they found that the study was poorly conducted and the results did not support the author’s conclusions.
Myth 2: Aspartame causes weight gain
Fact: There is no evidence to suggest consuming aspartame leads to weight gain or increased appetite. On the contrary, replacing sugar-filled drinks with beverages containing low-calorie sweeteners such as aspartame has been shown to help overweight individuals lose weight and keep it off.
Myth 3: Aspartame is not safe for consumption and is linked to various health risks
Fact: Aspartame’s safety has been supported by well over 200 studies. According to Health Canada, daily consumption of up to 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight is perfectly safe. This means that a 132-pound woman could safely drink about 19 cans of diet soft drinks a day. (Though we don’t advocate you drink that much!) The one group that must carefully monitor use of aspartame are individuals with the rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU). They are unable to break down phenylalanine, one of aspartame’s amino acids.
Myth 4: The methanol in aspartame is toxic and linked to numerous health problems
Fact: As aspartame makes its way through the intestines, enzymes break it down into unique components–methanol and two amino acids. The amount of methanol released from aspartame is too low for concern and it is broken down into the same components found naturally in other foods including proteins, fruits and vegetables. In fact, a cup of tomato juice would provide about six times more methanol than a cup of a diet beverage sweetened with aspartame.
Myth 5: Consuming low and no calorie beverages causes sweet cravings
Fact: Scientific research shows that sugar substitutes do not cause sweet cravings, nor do they promote hunger. In the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday study, researchers compared low and no-calorie beverages with water and found that neither caused food cravings.
5 WAYS TO CUT CALORIES WITH ASPARTAME
If you’re looking to shed a few pounds but can’t shake the sweet tooth, aspartame is a great and safe alternative to sugar because it is about 200 times sweeter. This means that very little is required to sweeten common products, resulting in fewer calories and no effect on blood sugar.
So keep these aspartame tips in mind:
- When you reach for your morning coffee, skip the sugar and reach for a low-calorie sweetener such asNutraSweet or Equal. Each teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories, so if you drink two coffees a day with two sugars in each, making the switch could save you almost 450 calories a week. See how little changes add up?
- If you want a sweet beverage but don’t want the calories, swap a diet beverage for your regular drink. Same great flavour but without the added sugar.
- To curb snacking while cooking or late at night, chew on a minty piece of gum. The strong flavour will kill your unhealthy cravings.
- Buy unsweetened oatmeal and sweeten with a low-calorie sweetener like Equal for breakfast. One package of sweetened oatmeal contains up to 160 calories. Start the morning off right and save those extra calories.
- Drink a lot of water. If regular water isn’t your thing, consider mixing in fresh fruit or fruit juice or use a low calorie flavouring.
Dr. Berna Magnuson is an internationally recognized food toxicologist. She is currently managing her own consultancy practice and teaches part-time in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. As a consultant, she provides regulatory and toxicology expertise to industry, government and various associations. A frequent lecturer and panelist, she was honoured to become a Fellow of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences.