When I saw the most recent aspartame headlines, I felt the sweet rush of vindication. Hah! Aspartame will not kill me!! I rushed to the vending machine, pressed the diet coke button and returned to my desk, prepared to read all about the safety of one of my favorite chemicals. With the first sip, I was feeling great. Two gulps and two paragraphs later, I wasn’t quite so smug. Yes, I was reading what I wanted to read, but the latest study seemed a tad biased. I needed to lay it all out – figure out the facts, before I could savor the remainder of my soda. What, I wanted to know, was the truth about aspartame?
Unfortunately, the truth isn’t simple. Aspartame is used in more than 6,000 products as a low-calorie sugar substitute. It can be found in diet drinks, sugar-free gum, sugar/fat-free yogurt, jam, various ice creams and a host of other items that are filling our kitchens. It is one of the most widely studied chemicals and one with an equally wide range of findings. In June, Italian researchers concluded that aspartame caused cancer. This was the latest in a long list of aspartame accusations. The chemical had previously been linked to brain damage, birth defects, headaches and impaired cognitive function. But just last week, a new study proclaimed that aspartame, in large and small doses, was safe. After reviewing 500 studies, the researchers had found nothing, aside from possible headaches, that could result from aspartame use. The only problem was, the researchers were backed by a major aspartame manufacturer and seemed to favor the studies that promoted rather than denounced the chemical. So, should we believe them or will aspartame lead to an untimely death?
It’s difficult to say. With a bias like that, it’s hard to really get behind the findings. However, I wouldn’t throw the contents of your pantry in the garbage just yet. The research is conflicting. More needs to be done before a definitive position can be taken. What you should do is think about how much you’re consuming. It’s never a smart idea to take in an exorbitant amount of any chemical. Limit yourself. Have one diet soda rather than ten; try all-natural yogurt rather than all-chemical. Regardless of whether or not aspartame will give you brain tumors, cutting back on those products is a good idea. As for me, I finished my coke, but I think I’ll hold off on another one, at least until tomorrow.
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