View Full Version : All about Aspartame

The Alternative Crow
12-28-2003, 11:53 AM
First of all, its not really the effects of the Aspartame itself but the methanol in the Aspartame. The sweetener is made up of two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, and an alcohol, methanol. Aspartame is used because it's about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Since 1 gram of aspartame (with essentially no calories) can replace 2 teaspoons of sugar (at 16 calories per teaspoon), foods made with aspartame have many fewer calories than they would if sugar was used. Unlike other food substitutes such as the artificial fat olestra, aspartame is digested by your body. The thing that aspartame is digested by your body is what makes it so controversial. After you eat or drink an aspartame-sweetened product, aspartame breaks down into its starting components: phenylalanine, aspartate, and methanol. Methanol accounts for about 10 percent of this. Methanol itself is not harmful, but enzymes in your liver break it down into two very toxic compounds. The big debate is whether there's enough of these toxins produced from the methanol in aspartame to damage your body. So know we've got the general idea of aspartame. But the question is, why methanol? What is it and why is it in many foods, drinks, and sweeteners? Methanol is one of a host of alcohols normally produced during the fermentation of carbon-based compounds. An alcohol is basically a water atom (H20) with one of the hydrogen atoms replaced by a chain of carbons and their attached hydrogen atoms. Methanol (CH 3OH) is the simplest alcohol with a chain consisting of a carbon atom with three hydrogen atoms attached. Ethanol (CH3 CH2OH), the intoxicating ingredient in beer and other alcoholic beverages, has a chain that's twice as long.

Methanol can be distilled from fermented wood, so you may know it as wood alcohol. It's an ingredient in commercial products like antifreeze, glass cleaner, and paint thinners, but many people regularly drink other, more innocuous products that contain methanol. Methanol is found naturally in fruit juice and distilled spirits such as whiskey, wine, and beer. A typical glass of wine contains a small amount of methanol, from 0.0041 to 0.02 percent by volume. In comparison, the same glass will have about 10-15 percent ethanol. Methanol is much sweeter than ethanol, and even a small amount adds flavor to these beverages. This sweetness is what makes methanol attractive to use in an artificial sweetener.

All alcohols are toxic to some degree, but the dark side of methanol lies in the metabolites produced during its breakdown in the body. The same set of enzymes digest both methanol and ethanol. This stepwise degradation eventually yields the final products of carbon dioxide and water. The process prevents ethanol from building up to toxic levels in the body. But the small difference in the structures of the ethanol and methanol molecules means that the intermediate steps of the same process turn methanol into compounds that are far more dangerous than methanol itself! In the first enzymatic reaction, methanol is broken down into formaldehyde. If you've ever dissected a frog in biology class (ack! i'd rather see a dead rabbit!) , you may have witnessed one of the many uses of this chemical. Formaldehyde reacts with the amino acids in proteins. Proteins are chains of amino acids that fold to form very unique structures. The way these chains fold gives proteins the proper shape and the flexibility to interact with other molecules. Formaldehyde diffuses into tissues and cells where it forms crosslinks between different amino acids. The protein is stuck rigidly in whatever conformation it was in and is no longer able to carry out any reactions! This property makes formaldehyde useful for a number of chemical processes that fix things in a particular state. Some examples are:

leather tanning
corrosion prevention
wood finishing

The Froggy Protein Reactor formaldehyde may also cause cancer in humans, but this requires long-term exposure. Formaldehyde doesn't stick around long in your body because it is so rapidly metabolized to formic acid by the second enzyme in this metabolic pathway. Formic acid is also extremely toxic to humans. It disrupts the function of a cell's mitochondria. Mitochondria normally serve as the "powerhouse of the cell" and disrupting their function is like abruptly shutting down a nuclear reactor. Not only do all the cellular processes stop for lack of energy, but the cells themselves are blown apart by a massive accumulation of different molecules involved in energy production. The cells that make up the optic nerve are exquisitely sensitive to formic acid, which is why blindness, heart attcks, and other diseases or malfuctions are so closely associated with methanol poisoning.
Does aspartame produce enough methanol to harm people? The short answer is, "there is a lot of controversy around this question,". Most people regularly consume up to 10 mg of methanol per day as part of their normal diet. One 12-ounce can of aspartame-sweetened soda contains about 200 milligrams of aspartame [reference]. You'd add a tenth of this amount to your diet as methanol following digestion (20 mg).

I'll add more info later.

[ 02-08-2004, 10:21 AM: Message edited by: The Alternative Crow ]

12-29-2003, 11:02 AM
Ho Hum :rolleyes:

12-29-2003, 01:51 PM
I for one think this post is very good, unlike Mr yawn who decides to keep himself anonymous.

If the facts are true then people that look at it can decide weather or not they want to digest all the information.

I only wish there where more posts like this to help fellow industry people and the public.

01-12-2004, 01:01 PM
I also think this was a great post. It cleared up for me the half-truth that diet soda contains formaldehyde.

One question - is saccharin still used in fountain diet soda? I've heard that, but it has never been confirmed to me.


The Alternative Crow
01-17-2004, 10:53 AM
The most commonly used, no calorie sweetener, in a variety of foods, drinks, pharmaceuticals and animal feed. There are three types of saccharin commercially available: sodium, calcium, and “insoluble” (acid) saccharin. Two physical forms are available: granular and powder. Sodium saccharin, the most popular type, comes in a variety of particle sizes and concentrations. The granulars are typically used in situations where the saccharin will be dissolved, and the powders find many uses in dry mixes and pharmaceuticals. Calcium saccharin (SYNCAL CaS) has improved taste characteristics over sodium saccharin, and has gained recent popularity. SYNCAL CaS is currently used in tabletop sweeteners and diet fountain drinks. “Insoluble” saccharin (SYNCAL SDI) is the acid form of saccharin. It is used in many pharmaceuticals and is only slightly soluble in water. SYNCAL sodium saccharin and acid saccharin meet or exceed Food Chemical Codex (FCC) and United States Pharmacopeia (USP) specifications required by the Food and Drug Administration, current at the time of issuance of this data sheet. SYNCAL sodium saccharin and acid saccharin products also meet European Pharmacopeia standards. SYNCAL calcium saccharin meets FCC specifications

As you can see, in some places, Saccharin is still used in diet fountain drinks.

01-19-2004, 01:23 PM
Thanks for your answer Crow! Much appreciated.

01-27-2004, 09:40 PM
Mega dittos

01-28-2004, 03:03 PM
so what are you suggesting as the alternative? As the old adage goes "there's always something that'll kill ya"...

The Alternative Crow
02-08-2004, 10:15 AM
So far, the only unharmful sweetener I know now is Splenda. It comes from sugar so it sorta tastes like it. Slim Jones is using it.

04-19-2004, 05:31 PM
Pepsi has anounced a product with Splenda and Coke has anounced a product that is similar but hasn't specifically said what the sweetener will be. Note both of these new products are "mid-carb" items and will stil have cane sugar or corn syrup in them in addition to the splenda.

We can only hope that the powers that be switch to Splenda in the next few years.

04-30-2004, 09:19 PM
Splenda and Pure Cane Sugar??? That sounds like the best of both worlds....!

Stevia Dude
05-07-2004, 12:23 PM
Sucralose is still an artificial sweetener...and the profit motive behind creating an artificial sweetener and selling it seems to help compromise the FDA's approval of artificial sweeteners. ie: lobbying by Monsanto to get aspartame approved and keep a natural and safe sweetener like stevia off the market.

For more information on sucralose toxicity...

Also, a number of individual and class action suits are now being brought against major multinational companies like Pepsi, Coke, Wrigley's etc. for using aspartame in their food and beverages. Sucralose could be in the same position in 20 years...?

Nature has already provided.