Aspartame is one of the most popular and widely available artificial sweeteners found in low-calorie food and drinks, such as diet soda and sugar-free treats. Not only that, but it’s also a component of certain medications. Despite its ubiquitousness and stamp of approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), aspartame has become a source of controversy, with several studies claiming it may have adverse side effects.
Today, we’ll look at some of the most recent evidence on the safety of this substance and how it might affect weight and appetite:
Can Aspartame Help Me Lose Weight?
Food and beverages containing artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are often marketed as a healthier option. Since it is substantially sweeter than sugar (around 200x), aspartame can be used in small amounts and contribute little to no calories to daily intake. Because of this, many have turned to products containing aspartame to enjoy a flavorful diet in efforts to lose weight. However, findings suggest the truth may not be as sweet as it seems.
A 2017 meta-analysis of research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found no evidence of weight management benefits for artificial sweeteners in randomized clinical trials. It reported that cohort studies associate artificial sweeteners with “increases in weight and waist circumference.”
Dr. David Ludwig, a weight-management specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, pointed out another concern in an article published by Harvard Medical School; the use of artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, may replace lost calories through other sources, therefore possibly offsetting weight management or health benefits. “I’m drinking diet soda,” says Dr. Ludwig, “So it’s okay to have cake” — a verbalization of the mentality that can quickly undo any calorie-restrictive diet aspartame may instigate. This leads us to our next point:
Will Aspartame Suppress My Appetite?
Another red flag concerning aspartame goes beyond how it directly affects your weight, but instead, how it makes your body feel — and how you act upon it. Research indicates that even acceptable daily intakes of aspartame, as regulated by the FDA, could actually make you hungrier — prompting you to overeat or make unhealthy food choices to satiate — ultimately leading to a gain in weight. Other studies in rodents show that, compared with sugar, sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin cause weight gain, not management.
Something Sweet: Alternatives to Aspartame
Those who wish to limit their aspartame intake can try the following alternative natural sweeteners:
- Agave nectar
- Stevia leaves
- Maple syrup
While the above options may be preferable to aspartame, individuals should still only use them in small amounts. These sweeteners can be high in calories, akin to sugar, with little to no real nutritional value.