Artificial Sweeteners – What’s in your fizzy drinks?


Aspartame is an artificial sweetener; intensely sweet being over 200 times sweeter than sugar. It has been used in fizzy drinks and low calorie and sugar free foods for many years. It is also known as E951 (it is an E Number) and is the ingredient in sweeteners such as Canderel, Equal and NutraSweet. You can tell if aspartame is present as an ingredient by checking product labelling (it has to be mentioned); but it also gives quite an unpleasant after taste.

Aspartame is a very small molecule which is a derivative of 2 linked amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). It isn’t suitable for use in baking as these molecules breakdown and the “sweetness” is lost; another sweetener sucralose is much more stable and so is more widely used for baking. Over the years there have been many studies looking into the safety of aspartame. While studies with industry funding give aspartame the OK, independently funded work generally does not. Upon ingestion, aspartame breaks down into components aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol, then also further products including formaldehyde and formic acid; known to be toxic. Still, up to this day there are many studies being published in the literature to try and determine whether aspartame is safe or not.

Reports of reactions to aspartame have included headaches, migraines, premature birth, cancer, seizures, depression, ADHD and MS. Interestingly, the NHS advises pregnant women to avoid aspartame and artificial sweeteners. I had a client a few years ago whose entire fluid intake consisted of diet drinks, she was drinking on average 2 litres per day plus eating lots of low fat foods which were also full of aspartame. Over the years she developed nervous system problems akin to the beginnings of multiple sclerosis which baffled the doctors. I persuaded her to cut out the diet drinks which was not easy, she had to reduce the amount gradually but finally after several months of zero aspartame consumption her symptoms disappeared.

Aspartame may seem healthy as it is a substitute for sugar, however, drinking diet drinks does not reduce a sweet tooth or cravings. When you drink something sweet researchers argue your body comes to expect a caloric boost. Low or no artificial sweeteners can alter this link to the brain and the craving for sweetness doesn’t go away. The only way to reduce sugar cravings is to reduce sugary (and sweetener loaded) foods replacing them with low glycemic load (GL) foods instead. Foods with a low GL keep you satisfied for longer, so that you eventually can beat those cravings and feel healthier.

So the advice is, think before you drink, if in doubt then you do have choices, and do check labelling. Drink sizes have increased hugely over the past few years and therefore quantities of aspartame have increased. There are plenty of low sugar or no sugar drink alternatives such as a lime and soda, fizzy water with some lemon or lime, herbal teas including mint and the berry teas. Cinnamon has a sweet taste to it, apple and cinnamon tea is a sweet, warming, and comforting drink which is a great wind down before bed.
To learn more about the impact food intolerances can have on your health feel free to call us on 01 20 22 701 or request a free call back here. Or to see whether IgG antibody reactions to foods and drinks are detected in your blood, take our FirstStep Test.