Aspartame (commercially sold as NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel)
Aspartame was discovered by accident in 1965 at G.D. Searle. In 1981 the FDA approved it as a table top sweetener. In 1983 it was approved for use in carbonated beverages, and in 1996 it was approved for use in foods and all other drinks. Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar, and is currently the most popular artificial sweetener in the U.S.
It has four calories per packet, and 24 packets equals one cup of sugar. Because aspartame loses sweetness when subjected to heat for long periods of time, it’s not a suitable choice for baking. If aspartame is used in stove-top cooking, add it in the last five minutes of cooking to maintain sweetness.
Aspartame is approved for use by the American Diabetes Association and other public health organizations that promote weight loss. There are also many other big organization endorsements and support statements for aspartame. At the same time, a small army of individuals continue to object to the controversial way in which aspartame got FDA approval, which came about when the Donald Rumsfeld, then the CEO of Searle, used his personal relationship with President Ronald Reagan to push it through.
Another more troubling and compelling issue regarding aspartame comes from individuals who claim to suffer serious neural health problems due to aspartame consumption. These reports include a lower threshold for seizures, increased incidents of brain tumors, greater prevalence of multiple sclerosis, numbness in limbs, and more. The alleged harm is due to the fact that methanol, one of the ingredients in aspartame, breaks down into formaldehyde. Consuming large amounts of methanol is thought to have a cumulative and toxic effect, especially for children.
A second health problem involves phenylalanine, another ingredient in aspartame, which is dangerous to the estimated 10 million people who have PKU or phenylketonuria. This is a genetic disorder where the enzyme needed to metabolize phenylalanine is missing. If you’re interested in learning more about individual health concerns about aspartame, check out Sweet Misery, a documentary on DVD by Cori Brackett.
Saccharin (commercially sold as Sweet N Low and Necta Sweet)
Saccharin was discovered by accident in 1879, and is the great grandmother of all artificial sweeteners. It didn’t become popular and widely used, however, until there was a sugar shortage brought on by WWI. Saccharin is currently the third most popular artificial sweetener in the U.S.