The following questions came into the Aspartame Resource Center. We asked Althea Zanecosky, MS, RD, LDN to respond.
How much aspartame is safe to consume in one day?
Many Americans have a "sweet" routine: a bowl of sugary breakfast cereal followed by a mid-morning donut, a lunch time soda, and an ice cream after supper. Then there are the seasonal goodies that are part of Valentine's Day, Halloween, and the winter holiday season. All this sweetness adds up -- so that the average American eats the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar a day (according to figures from the most recent federal Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals). Nearly 60 percent of this intake, says the trade group The Sugar Association, is from corn sweeteners, used heavily in sodas and other sweetened drinks. Another 40 percent is from sucrose (table sugar), and a small amount comes from other sweeteners, such as honey and molasses.
Humans naturally have a craving for sweets but in excess, sugary foods add up to extra calories, which can contribute to weight gain. And to lose weight, the total calories from foods must be decreased and physical activity increased. Many consumers seeking to control their weight have turned to low-calorie sweeteners, also known as sugar substitutes, as one way to help lower the daily calorie count without having to give up their favorite foods.
Weight loss is complex and can't be attributed to any one food, but anything that can safely help people cut back on excess calories is good. Sugar substitutes like aspartame can help certain people lose and maintain a weight. Because aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, it takes much less to create the same sweetness without any calories.
According to a 2004 survey by the Calorie Control Council, 180 million American adults regularly consume low-calorie, sugar-free products, including sodas and desserts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved four sugar substitutes--saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K, and sucralose--for use in a variety of foods.
Approved by the FDA in 1981, aspartame is used as a tabletop sweetener and in food products like beverages, breakfast cereals, desserts, candy, and chewing gum. On the basis of extensive testing in animal and human subjects, the level of daily consumption that is judged to be safe is called the Acceptable Daily Intake or ADI. ADI is defined as the estimated amount (expressed in milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day) that a person can safely consume on average every day over a lifetime without risk. The ADI must be considered prior to approval for any food ingredient including low-calorie sweeteners like aspartame. Moreover, regulators around the world typically set ADIs at levels around 100 times less than levels found to be safe in key animal model studies. These studies include daily exposure for up to a lifetime. In the United States, the ADI is set by the FDA. Internationally, ADIs are set by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the United Nations' World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the European Union's Scientific Committee on Food (SCF).
The ADI for aspartame is 50 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight per day. At this level, for example, a 150-pound (60-kilogram) person would need to consume 3,000 mg of aspartame or about 16 12-ounce cans of a beverage containing aspartame to reach this level of intake.
The chart that follows describes the approximate number of servings of various aspartame-containing products that an adult and child would need to consume to reach the ADI for aspartame.
||Approximate number of servings per day to reach the ADI
||Approximate number of servings per day to reach the ADI
||Adult (150 lb.)
||Child (50 lb.)
|Carbonated soft drink (12 oz.)
|Powdered soft drink (8 oz.)
|Gelatin (4 oz.)
|Tabletop sweetener (packet)
The FDA estimates that the average consumer ingests only about 4 percent to 7 percent of this amount each day, the larger amount being consumed by heavier users of aspartame or by those with lower body weights. It is important to note that the ADI is not a specific point at which safety ends and possible health concerns begin, and occasionally consuming levels above the ADA would not be expected to cause any negative health effects.
Does aspartame affect triglyceride levels?
Aspartame in and of itself should have no effect on triglyceride levels, although to the extent that it helps individuals reduce dietary sugar, it may be a positive tool for those working to reduce triglyceride levels. Before being allowed on the market, aspartame underwent rigorous scrutiny and was shown to be safe when consumed by the public, including people with diabetes and heart disease. Studies have shown that aspartame has no effect on short-or long-term triglyceride, serum glucose or cholesterol concentrations and no effect on serum insulin (1-4). The American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association have both issued statements about the safe use of aspartame when consumed within the acceptable daily intake levels established by the FDA.
Lifestyle changes can help lower triglycerides and include the following:
- Lose weight to decrease body fat. Triglycerides are stored as fat in tissues and muscles.
- Increase physical activity.
- Eat fewer calories. Excess calories are converted to triglycerides.
- Reduce unhealthy fats in the diet, especially saturated fat.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol, which has a particularly strong effect on triglycerides.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that limits high-calorie foods and carbohydrates, especially high-sugar foods.
Consuming foods high in simple sugars significantly contributes to high triglycerides. The Cleveland Clinic has published guidelines to limit simple sugars in the diet and several include the use of sugar substitutes including aspartame:
- Substitute beverages like colas, fruit drinks, iced tea, lemonade, Hi-C and Kool-Aid with beverages labeled "sugar-free" or "diet."
- Limit hard candies, chocolates, candy bars and gummy bears and substitute with sugar-free.
- Avoid adding table sugar and brown sugar to hot and cold cereals. Instead, substitute Equal, Splenda, Sweet-n-Low, Sugar
- Twin or Brown Sugar Twin.
- Choose sugar-free gum or mints instead of the regular versions.
- Try sugar-free gelatin and puddings instead of their regular versions.
- Spread breads and crackers with no-sugar-added jelly or preserves.
- The Cleveland Clinic also advices those with high triglycerides to limit daily sugar intake to no more than 8 percent of your total each day. One way to reach this guideline is through the use of sugar substitutes such as aspartame.
Additional Background on Triglycerides: Triglycerides are the form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. Triglycerides are an important part of the lipid profile and have a close relationship with HDL cholesterol. Guidelines for triglyceride levels in healthy adults are:
|Under 150 mg/dl
||500 mg/dl or higher
Many of the factors that effect lowering HDL also effect the elevation of triglycerides. It is not uncommon to see elevated triglycerides (greater than 200) and low HDL (less than 40 for men, or less than 45 for women) occur together. The combination of elevated triglycerides and low HDL may increase the risk of coronary heart disease. High triglyceride levels may also be indicative of diabetes, or may be an indicator of sensitivity to simple carbohydrates and alcohol.
Triglycerides in plasma are derived from fats eaten in foods or made in the body from other energy sources like carbohydrates. Calories ingested in a meal and not used immediately by tissues are converted to triglycerides and transported to fat cells to be stored. Hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat tissue so they meet the body's needs for energy between meals.
1. Singleton M, Heiser C, Jamesen K, and Mattes R: Sweetener Augmentation of Serum Triacylglycerol during a Fat Challenge Test in Humans. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol. 18, No. 2, 179-185 (1999)
2. Blades B and Garg A: Mechanisms of increase in plasma triacylglycerol concentrations as a result of high carbohydrate intakes in patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Am J Clin Nutr 62: 996-1002, 1995.
3. Teff KL, Devine J, Engelman K: Sweet taste: Effect on cephalic phase insulin release in men. Physiol & Behav 57: 1089-1095, 1995.
4. Abdallah L, Chabert M, Louis-Sylvestre J: Cephalic phase responses to sweet taste. Am J Clin Nutr 65: 737-743, 1997.
American Diabetes Association Position Statements--Nutrition Principles and Recommendations in Diabetes. Diabetes Care 27:S36, 2004 http://care.diabetesjournals.org/cgi/content/full/27/suppl_1/s36
American Heart Association Artificial Sweeteners http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4447
Cleveland Clinic How Foods Affect Triglycerides http://www.clevelandclinic.org