My kid went crazy the other day.
Because what healthy kid doesn’t when she sneaks mom’s ENTIRE hidden stash of chocolate? (Gotta find a new hiding place now..)
She launched into an incredible high that sent her spinning and tearing up the house only to crash in a puddle of tears, crying on my shirt, chocolate smeared on her face and caked in her nails…
I fought down the urge to blame myself, cleaned her up, and let her nap, and sleep off the withdrawals.
Amazing how sugar could influence her like that.
The next day I was reading up on sugar and artificial sweeteners to weigh out some options.
That’s when I started reading some pretty intense things about aspartame.
For example, I read that aspartame caused the Gulf War Syndrome. (1)
With relatively no idea what that was, I Wikipedia’d it. Listed, were chronic ailments such as fatigue, muscle pain, and rashes. Apparently military veterans were mainly affected by this, and aspartame was the cause. (2)
Just shows ya that just because you read something, doesn’t make it true–especially on Wiki. (For the record, I did some later reading as well that discounted aspartame as causing the Gulf War Syndrome. Though there seems to be a lot of people who are convinced that it was).
But it did get me thinking.
What is aspartame? What does it do? How does it effect us? I’ve heard rumors that it causes brain tumors and weight gain. But reading that I thought “those things never happen to me” and “it has to be safe if it’s in so many things.”
Maybe it is a big deal?
The sugar rush of yesterday and these thoughts today led me to do some research. I’m hoping what I write up today will help all you moms out there just trying to do your best.
Yeah, so the first stuff I pulled up on aspartame would have lead me to believe my girl already had a brain tumor.
But I’m a smart mom.
And I can find smart and reliable information.
Here we go!
The most recent government dietary surveys reveal that 12% of kids and 24% of adults consume artificially sweetened beverages. (8)
Aspartame is in a lot of our drinks and food.
A lot = yogurt, jello, hot chocolate, diet sodas, fruit drinks, gum, pudding, jam, ice cream, and pretty much anything that says sugar-free on it.
Basically, by trying to avoid sugar, you are probably consuming aspartame.
So what is aspartame?
The American Cancer Society defines it as the most commonly used artificial sweetener (also sold under brand names NutraSweet and Equal). It is made by “joining together the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are found naturally in many foods.” (3)
And Aspartic acid is produced by your own body (so far it seems pretty natural).
As your body breaks down the aspartame, part of it converts to methanol. Yes, this can be toxic in very large amounts. But small amounts are not harmful and the amount we get from aspartame is lower than the amount you get in many common foods. Again this is naturally produced in your very own body and it is also found in fruits and some veggies! (4)
And many organizations have weighed in favorably for aspartame including: Food and Drug Administration (FDA), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, American Heart Association, and the American Dietetic Association. (4)
So how much is ok to consume?
The FDA sets a good amount at 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) sets it at 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (a little less but from the info we have we know that the 10 milligrams more isn’t going to matter.
This amount is supposed to be 100 times less than the very smallest intake that maybe, just might cause health concerns (based on studies done in labs of course). (3)
And why wouldn’t it matter?
Well because you’d have to consume a crazy amount to even get to that “ok’ed” amount.
For a typical adult (about 165 lbs) this would amount to 3,750 milligrams per day. A can of diet soda (12 oz) is usually about 192 milligrams of aspartame so the typical adult (average 165 lbs) would have to drink more than 19 cans in a single day! (3)
Even after running those numbers it was so un-concerning, even for kids. Like so much more than they’re going to consume in a single day. Especially my kids!
And I’m sure you’re wondering about all those cancer, Lupus, ADHD, MS, and Gulf War Syndrome rumors.
Well basically that seems to be what they are.
Basically, the only people who health-wise should be concerned about aspartame intake are people with phenylketonuria. This rare genetic disorder makes it so the body can’t break down phenylalanine (an amino acid) and so it can build up in the blood stream and prevent other important amino acids from getting to the brain. This can result in abnormal brain development. Lucky for us, they test this at birth. So we know if this is a problem or not. (3)
Aspartame was evaluated in four long-term studies before the FDA approved it in 1981 and there was no link to cancer. (1) Many other studies have been done in labs, testing the effects on lab animals being fed aspartame in often higher doses than 4,000 mg/kg per day over their lifetimes, and found no consistently linked health issues. (3)
Despite overwhelming studies that aspartame does not cause any of these health issues (9), a lot of fear mongering continues. While I have nothing against people disagreeing with me, or deciding to abstain anyways, or whatever their desires are, I absolutely loathe the fear-mongering.
Like I said, many of my google searches on aspartame were riddled with false information. Or it was just incomplete. At worst it was business masquerading as someone who cares about your health—pretending to have all the natural remedies you’ll ever need at this inflated price. At best it was misinformed parents who were just legitimately concerned about protecting their children.
Now what does this all mean?
If you still have some reservations about aspartame (want to see if all these kids ‘using’ it will turn out as doped up zombies) there are some natural alternatives you can try, such as honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, fruit juice, and molasses. Of course, still be smart about using these more natural versions as they can contain a lot of calories with no nutritional value. (4)
So, ya know, just be moderate.
Be smart and go to the best sources for information so you can make the best choices for your kiddies. My advice for when you do your own research (and you should)–go to scientific and evidential sources. These will talk about the studies (the brain tumor one for example) and actually help you understand what went into them. This will help you to think about it intellectually.
One article I read made an excellent point. They talked about how, as a parent, you’re in charge of shaping the tastes of your children. You help guide them to prefer the natural sweetness of wholesome foods or the processed, high-in-concentration-sweetness of the not so wholesome. You can help your children learn to appreciate the natural. My older kids even crave it! In turn they’ll hopefully form better habits as they get older. (7)
As parents, we just have to get them into adulthood. Then we’re home free. They can make their choices at that point.
So whether you’re going to allow aspartame or only do natural, remember the facts and don’t be judge-y about what other people choose.
Also don’t terrorize your children about brain tumors and instead teach them about research. The hows and the whys. They’ll learn how to learn and process information and make choices on their own eventually.
You’re smart. They’ll be smart too.
Personally, I think I’ll take a moderate route with this for me and my kids. While I think eating wholesome foods are best, a diet soda or sugar-free whatever now and then isn’t going to kill anyone.