Monday, December 20, 2010

Aspartame - is it unsafe for consumption?


Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are found in over 6000 diet products, beverages and pharmaceuticals. They replace sucrose in foods, enhancing flavour while reducing calories and the risk of dental caries. As obesity has become a major public health issue, more individuals of all ages are choosing to use these products. However, their safety has been controversial. Aspartame received a lot of media attention in 2006 when a report claimed that aspartame was a multi-potential carcinogenic agent. As a response, further investigations were undertaken into the effects of aspartame on health because if found to be true, then food standards would have had to be revised. These epidemiological studies provided no evidence to support an association between aspartame and cancer in any tissue but pointed out that risks associated with foetal exposure were not evaluated. Currently, the food safety authority Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and other international regulatory agencies have approved aspartame for general use in a range of foods including tabletop sweeteners, carbonated soft drinks, yoghurt and confectionery.

As a food additive, aspartame is required to be identified by its class name (i.e. sweetener) and by an individual name or code number. The additive number for aspartame is 951. It also needs to be labeled because aspartame is unsuitable for individuals with Phenylketonuria (PKU) since aspartame is broken down into the amino acid phenylalanine.

In summary, FSANZ has concluded that, in Australia, aspartame is a safe food additive, and levels in food are well below those at which adverse health effects might occur.

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