Why I Stay Away from Aspartame – Part One

“Aspartame causes cancer, you know?” That was nearly twenty-five years ago. I was working at a marina docking boats and drinking my third or fourth Diet Coke of the day. A co-worker, who must have seen me knock back the Cokes day-after-day, decided to put his oar in. I was a different man back then. Worry about diet? That was for left-wing crunchies who listened to Bob Dylan and the Indigo Girls. Also, companies wouldn’t put anything into their products that could be harmful, right? I completely ignored him. What a naive, close-minded man I was. I love Bob Dylan now too. Infidels is one of my favourite albums. Not so much the Indigo Girls.

Over the years, I stumbled across several articles calling into question the safety of aspartame. That brain worm took time to make me take action, but I eventually stopped eating or drinking anything with aspartame ten years ago. This was before my diabetes diagnosis. Furthermore, the more I read about our corporatist state system over the years, the more I came to understand that big business and, even more so, the state, shock-horror, do not always have the consumers’ best interests at heart. There’s a lot of money to be made out there for government and business. Often they’re the same people. It’s called the revolving door. Enter the strange history of aspartame.

If you Duckduckgo or Google “aspartame” you’ll get a long list of sites that tell you the same, bland story. Here’s the first one from aspartame.org:

The history of aspartame dates back to 1965 when the low-calorie sweetener was accidentally discovered by chemist James Schlatter. After the evaluation of data from required studies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved aspartame for use in certain foods in 1981, soft drinks in 1983, and authorized aspartame as a general-purpose sweetener for foods and beverages in 1996. The European Union approved aspartame in 1994 as a food additive. It is currently approved for use in more than 100 countries.

Aspartame has a very interesting history with lots of twists and turns since its approval more than 30 years agoWith around-the-clock media coverage, the Internet and social media all competing for viewers, listeners, readers and clickers, sensational headlines abound. Personal testimonials and misinterpreted studies about food and nutrition can create confusion and fear. Aspartame is no exception with unsubstantiated negative claims proliferating in the media and on the web contrary to substantial evidence supporting its safety and role in a healthful eating plan. Rather than believing every scary headline you see, consider the source, read other viewpoints and consult a reliable expert, like a registered dietitian or reputable sites like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration.

So aspartame, though artificial, is perfectly safe and part of a healthy eating plan. You get a similar story from a lot of sites in the first couple of pages of a search. Here are some more “aspartame discovered in 1965, approved in 1981 and is safe” style pages:

They go on and on. Discovered in ’65 approved in ’81 then approved around the world. Possibly health risks…inconclusive or completely phony. Nothing to see here.

I’m a student of history. What’s interesting about all of these sites, and many more like them, is the chasm between 1965 and 1981. What was going on between the discovery of this sweetener and the FDA approval in 1981? Hell many of the sites don’t even mention this period. They begin with FDA approval and run from there. It is this period that makes me hugely sceptical about the safety of this product.

More about the fascinating history of aspartame tomorrow.

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