What is aspartame?
How is aspartame made?
Why is aspartame “bad” for health?
Aspartame can be bad for health in certain people and here’s why…
Does aspartame help with weight loss or does it affect hunger levels & make me hungrier?
Does aspartame cause cancer (is it a carcinogen)?
Is aspartame worse than sugar?
So is aspartame safe or is it bad for you?

8 minute read

From aspartames introduction in the 1980s up to now the public has had speculations about whether or not aspartame as a sugar replacement is truly a safe swap.  Plenty of data over the years has indicated there are no real direct dangers, aside from those with sensitivities and a those with certain genetic disorders.

With little to no side-effects being reported over the years, thousands of products in the market around the world contain aspartame. It’s one of the most popular artificial sweeteners of choice when manufacturing mass quantities due to its extreme sweetness; this in turn allows manufacturers to use less of the sweetener in their product to produce ideal end product for the consumer.

However, just in 2023, a new assessment by the WHO [World Health Organization], has indicated that there may be some risk with aspartame and that it may be bad for you.

What is aspartame?

Aspartame, also known as brand name Equal or NutraSweet, is one of the highly popular sugar substitutes.  Aspartame is intensely sweet, approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, and is used in many “diet” or “sugar-free” products to provide sweetness without the added calories.


How is aspartame made?

Chemically, aspartame is a dipeptide composed of two amino acids: L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine. These amino acids are found naturally in many protein-containing foods.

Aspartame is produced through a process that combines these amino acids with methanol. The phenylalanine in aspartame is slightly modified by adding a methyl group [or methanol] which gives aspartame its sweet taste.

Methanol is an alcohol similar to ethanol [beer, wine, other alcoholic beverages] and small amounts are also naturally found in fresh fruits, vegetables, fruit juices, & fermented beverages.

The resulting sweetener is considered non-nutritive because it provides very few calories when consumed.


Why is aspartame “bad” for health?

As a rule of thumb, “everything in moderation” is a good practice and this too applies with artificial sweeteners like aspartame.

While there’s “limited evidence” that aspartame directly causes health issues, there is possibility that it may have a carcinogenic affect potentially causing cancer, though there has been no direct link or confirmed data.

The WHO’s 2023 assessment of aspartame was based on studies completed by IARC [International Agency of Research on Cancer) and JECFA [Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives). From recent data, these organization have “…classified aspartame as possibly carcinogenic…” and felt it was not necessary to change the current accepted daily intake which is 40 MG/KG (or 2.20 POUNDS) body weight. It would really take a significant amount of aspartame-containing diet drinks and foods to surpass the daily intake.


Aspartame can be bad for health in certain people and here’s why…


Some individuals may have an intolerance or sensitivity to aspartame, leading to symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, gastrointestinal issues, or allergic-like reactions. However, these reactions are relatively rare and occur in a small percentage of the population.

Genetic Disorders

Aspartame contains the amino acid phenylalanine, which can be harmful to individuals with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU). People with PKU cannot properly metabolize phenylalanine, so they need to avoid aspartame and other sources of phenylalanine.

May Increase “Sweet” Cravings

Aspartame is often used as a sugar substitute in “diet” or “sugar-free” products to reduce calorie intake. However, some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners like aspartame may disrupt the body’s natural mechanisms for regulating appetite and may potentially contribute to weight gain or increased cravings for sweet foods. The evidence on this is mixed, and further research is needed to establish a definitive link.


Does aspartame help with weight loss or does it affect hunger levels & make me hungrier?

While aspartame itself is low in calories and does not directly contribute to weight gain, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that it helps with weight loss either.

However, there’s been some discussion that artificial sweeteners could potentially have negative affects towards weight loss goals due to some people (not everyone) experiencing increased cravings for sweets. As to “why” this may occur, the exact mechanisms are not fully understood.


Here are some possible explanations:


  1. Reward pathways in the brain: When you consume something sweet, natural sugars activate the brain’s reward pathways, leading to a pleasurable feeling. Some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may not fully activate these pathways to the same extent as natural sugars. As a result, the brain might still perceive a “reward deficit,” leading to an increased desire for more sweet-tasting foods.
  2. Disruption of satiety signals: Sweetness is often associated with caloric intake, and the body’s satiety signals (feeling full and satisfied) are partly influenced by the caloric content of the food. When you consume something sweet without the corresponding calories, your body might not register the same level of satisfaction, potentially leading to increased hunger and cravings.
  3. Conditioning and habituation: Over time, repeated exposure to artificial sweeteners might condition the brain to associate sweetness with low-calorie options. This association could lead to a preference for sweet-tasting foods, potentially driving cravings for high-calorie sweet treats to satisfy the desire for real sugar.
  4. Gut microbiota: Emerging research suggests that artificial sweeteners might influence the composition and activity of gut bacteria, which can have an impact on food cravings and overall metabolism. Changes in the gut microbiota could potentially affect the body’s response to sweet foods and influence food preferences.

Does aspartame cause cancer (is it a carcinogen)? 

No. Available data indicates that aspartame does not directly cause cancer and therefore not a carcinogen.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were some studies that suggested a link between aspartame consumption and cancer development in animals. However, further research and more extensive studies have since disproven these early findings, and subsequent research in both animals and humans has failed to demonstrate any consistent evidence of carcinogenic effects.

Additionally, some individuals may report adverse reactions to aspartame, which they may mistakenly attribute to cancer concerns. Though, it is essential to distinguish between genuine allergic reactions or sensitivities to aspartame and any unfounded fears of cancer development.


Is aspartame worse than sugar?

When it comes to aspartame vs sugar, both have their pros and cons. Here are some key points to consider when comparing aspartame and sugar:

  • Aspartame is a low-calorie artificial sweetener, while sugar is a high-calorie natural sweetener.
  • Sugar is a carbohydrate that raises blood sugar levels when consumed. Aspartame, being non-caloric and not metabolized into glucose, does not have a direct impact on blood sugar levels, making it a suitable option for individuals with diabetes or those looking to manage their blood sugar levels.
  • Sugar is known to promote tooth decay when consumed frequently. Aspartame does not contribute to tooth decay since it is not fermented by oral bacteria like sugar is.
  • Taste preferences vary among individuals. Some people find that aspartame has a slight aftertaste or different taste profile compared to sugar, which may influence their preference for one over the other.
  • Aspartame has been extensively studied, and regulatory agencies worldwide have deemed it safe for consumption within established acceptable daily intake levels. However, some individuals may experience adverse reactions or headaches from aspartame consumption. On the other hand, excessive sugar consumption has been linked to various health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dental problems.

As with any dietary choices, moderation is key.

So is aspartame safe or is it bad for you?

In summary, the non-nutritional food additive, aspartame, is considered safe when consumed moderately and within the daily intake limit mentioned earlier.

There is no credible scientific evidence to suggest that aspartame damages DNA, is carcinogenic, nor negatively affects overall health in any direct way for the average person.

It may cause issues for those with intolerances, sensitivities, or certain genetic disorder. Additionally, it is not directly tied with weight gain nor weight loss and may increase cravings for “sweets” in some people.

Aspartame is one of the most extensively studied food additives, and numerous regulatory agencies, including the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), have reviewed the available research and determined that aspartame is safe for consumption within established acceptable daily intake levels.