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Is aspartame a safe alternative to sugar?

A recent study investigated the effects of aspartame, a sugar substitute, on the body weight and blood sugar levels of healthy adults.

Obesity is a highly prevalent issue accompanied by impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes. Low-calorie sweeteners are often used as sugar substitutes in foods and beverages to reduce the sugar intake of children and adults. Large meta-analyses have shown that the use of low-calorie sweeteners is associated with a lower body mass index and weight loss. However, despite the efficacy of low-calorie sweeteners, many researchers question their safety and effectiveness.

A recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition investigated the effects of aspartame, a widely used sugar alternative, on blood glucose levels. The authors recruited 100 participants who they randomly assigned to one of three groups: the no aspartame group, 350 mg of aspartame ingested per day group, and 1050 mg of aspartame ingested per day group.

They took blood samples at the start of the study and 12 weeks after treatment to assess fasting glucose, glycated hemoglobin, leptin, and cholesterol. They also assessed urine samples at the start of the study, and at weeks four, eight, and twelve. The participants also completed questionnaires to record sensations of hunger, fullness, desire to eat, thirst, prospective consumption, and preoccupation with food.

Aspartame had no effect on blood sugar or weight

The participants’ characteristics (age, body mass index, waist circumference, systolic or diastolic blood pressure, glycated hemoglobin, and fasting glucose) were not significantly different between treatment groups at the start of the study.

Twelve weeks after treatment, they did not find any significant differences in glycated hemoglobin, lipids, leptin, and blood glucose levels between the three treatment groups. They also did not find any differences in the reported ratings of hunger, fullness, desire to eat, and thirst at all recorded time points. Finally, aspartame ingestion was found to not have any effect on the percentage of fat mass, fat-free mass, fat mass, fat-free mass, and body weight.

In conclusion, daily ingestion of low or high-dose aspartame was found to have no effect on blood glucose levels, hunger, or body weight after twelve weeks. The study reaffirms previous studies and demonstrates that low-calorie sweeteners are not associated with adverse health effects such as increased blood sugar in healthy adults and can be used as an effective sugar substitute in foods and beverages.

It is important to note that the study was supported by Ajinomoto Co., Inc., a food and chemical corporation that produces sweeteners. However, the authors do state that the funding source did not have any access to the study design, conduct, analyses, or report of the findings.

Written by Haisam Shah, BSc

Reference: Higgins, K. A., Considine, R. V., & Mattes, R. D. (2018). Aspartame Consumption for 12 Weeks Does Not Affect Glycemia, Appetite, or Body Weight of Healthy, Lean Adults in a Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Nutrition148(4), 650-657.

Haisam Shah BSc
Haisam Shah BSc
Haisam is a first-year Masters student in the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto. His research involves understanding the role of cardiac fibroblasts in the progressive development of cardiac fibrosis following a myocardial infarction. He graduated from McGill University with a Bachelors of Science – Honors in Pharmacology, where he had the opportunity of investigating potential combination therapies for Glioblastoma Multiforme.
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