The following question came into the Aspartame Resource Center. We asked Mary Lee Chin, MS, RD, to respond.
I hear a lot of experts saying there are no issues with aspartame, especially when used in moderation. What does moderation mean here?
Interesting question… and one which comes up a lot.
Let me first start by saying as a registered dietitian I have advised plenty of people to eat with “balance, variety and moderation.” The balance and variety part is pretty easy to define. Balance is to eat foods from all the food groups, and variety is to get a wide assortment of foods from within each group. This helps ensure that your total food selections provide the nutrients needed to attain and maintain health.
Moderation however is often in the eyes of the beholder. What is moderate to one person may be over- or under- consumption to another person of a different age, size, weight, activity level, and also relative to what they usually consume.
So let’s address the question from the perspective of Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established an ADI for all low-calorie sweeteners. ADI is the weight of a sweetener per kilogram of body weight that a person can safely consume every day over a lifetime without risk. And the ADI is a conservative estimate, based on research, and approximately only 1/100 of the maximum level known to produce no adverse effects.
For aspartame, the ADI has been set at 50 mg of aspartame per kilogram of body weight (50 mg/kg body wt/day). Translated, that amounts to 22 cans of diet soda for a 175-pound man, and 15 cans for a 120 pound woman, or almost 100 packets of Equal every day. Based on all the available data aspartame is a safe food ingredient. Study after study over two decades validates that aspartame is safe, and can especially benefit those who want to watch sugar and calorie intake, as well as lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Even with the safety and benefits issues confirmed however, no one would recommend drinking 22 cans of pop every day for the rest of your life. That does not fit the balance, variety or moderation mantra!
In terms of actual consumption, the average intake of aspartame among those who use the sweetener is very low, only 4.9 milligrams per kilogram of body weight daily, a fraction of the FDA approved upper intake level of 50 milligrams per kilogram per day. And even at the highest estimated category of consumption, intake amounts to 13.3 mg/kg/bw/day, little more than 25 % of the established ADI levels.
So how much should you eat and drink of aspartame containing products? Humans naturally have an appetite for sugary things, and soda pop consumption has increased steadily over the past decade, so it is no surprise that regular sugar sweetened soft drinks alone contribute a whopping 33% of added sugars in our diet. Large quantities add up to surplus calories, which can contribute to weight gain. In a survey 29% of consumers trying to eat more healthfully, choose to drink less soda, but another 28% would not change their consumption. Substituting diet pop for regular sugared drinks can help these people save a substantial amount of calories. Maintain recommended levels of intake of nutrient-rich beverages such as milk and juice, and enjoy adding diet pop as a refreshing option that provides good taste with no or minimal calories.
Place the inclusion of aspartame products within the context of your total daily food intake. Use aspartame low and reduced calorie products as a way to tastefully “budget” calories. By substituting aspartame sweetened foods for the sugar sweetened products, you can increase the palatability of the diet, make it easier to stay on a weight reduction program, and save calories at the same time. And incorporation of aspartame sweetened foods such as high fiber cereals, yogurt, and fruit and vegetable beverages contributes to increasing the nutrient density of your diet, while helping to limit calories.
You can safely enjoy a range of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners when consumed in a diet that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations…as well as your own individual health goals.
Mary Lee Chin, Denver, CO, is a registered dietitian and provides expert counsel to the Aspartame Resource Center.