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Nutrasweet, chemical name Aspartame, is an artificial sweetener used extensively in food products in Canada, the United States and around the world. As people became more conscious about weight loss and the bad effects of sugar consumption, the hunt for new and better artificial sweeteners went into high gear. Aspartame was approved for use as a sweetener in 1974, and since its introduction, there has been much controversy about its safety.
The Chemical Called Nutrasweet
Nutrasweet is the brand name of a laboratory-made chemical called aspartame. It is a methyl ester of the dipeptides of two amino acids called L-aspartic acid and L-phenylanine. Its form is a white, crystalline, odorless powder that has about 200 times the sweetness of sugar, so a very small amount can be used to flavor foods. However, aspartame’s components break down in high heat, so it cannot be used for foods that must be cooked or baked. This same heat reaction also breaks down aspartame into amino acids and methanol in the human body.
Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners can be useful for diabetics who cannot metabolize ordinary sugar properly without health effects. However, because of its widespread use in many products, the amount of aspartame that is now consumed by the average person is much more than was studied when the compound was first approved. At that time, it was approved for use in dry powders, cereals, chewing gum and as a tabletop sweetener for hot drinks. Nutrasweet enjoyed a long period of heavy marketing efforts that expounded its benefits as a low-calorie sweetener. It was used in a variety of soft drinks that were consumed daily. Today, Nutrasweet is used in such a wide range of products that health experts have begun to question the wisdom of consuming so much of the substance. A number of studies have suggested the compound may have a variety of side effects and dangers that were not previously known.
Side Effects of Nutrasweet
Unfortunately, a number of side effects have been noted in studies of aspartame consumption. The symptoms cover a range of body systems. Nausea and diarrhea are common symptoms in many people. Neurological symptoms such as headache, dizziness, memory problems, drowsiness, tremors and convulsions can occur in some people. Psychological side effects include depression, irritability, anxiety attacks, insomnia and phobic reactions have been reported. Palpitations of the heart and shortness of breath can also occur. Almost any system in the body can be affected by high doses of aspartame. Though Nutrasweet is often recommended for diabetics, one side effect can cause difficulty in maintaining recommended blood sugar levels. Aspartame has also been associated with weight gain, because the sweetening effect does not produce the same satisfaction as natural sugar. This can lead to overeating and weight gain. Generally, these effects diminish after Nutrasweet is discontinued.
Dangers of Nutrasweet Consumption
Despite the popularity of aspartame as a sweetener, it has come under increased scrutiny because of a number of studies that link the compound with memory problems, neurological damage, oxidative stress and even cancer. The problem is that aspartame breaks down into methanol in the body. Methanol is the chemical name for wood alcohol. As the methanol passes through blood-brain barrier, it is converted into formaldehyde, which is known to be a neurotoxin and carcinogen. It is this formaldehyde that produces the damaging effects in the body.
Sweet Solution Stevia
Japan already prohibited the use of chemical sweetners in the 1960's. There Stevia has been the main sugar substitute of choice in for years. It has no calories or chemicals. The leaf is 15 times sweeter than sugar and pure extract is about 300 times sweeter. As a growing number of critical studies have been reaching the public, more and more health conscious people have started using Stevia as the sweetener of their choice.