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Artificial Sweeteners: Aspartame

Artificial sweetener is, basically, a replacement for sugar, the main difference being that the sweetener has fewer calories than its natural analogue. It is of white color, powdery and has no particular smell. Although it is said to be a sugar substitute, it is important to note that these substitutes can be subdivided into natural (for example, agave) and artificial sweeteners (e.g. aspartame). This report will expound on aspartame in particular. In 1965 chemist James M. Schlatter, working in G.D. Searle & Company, discovered this sweetener albeit by accident, when he was working on an antiulcer drug candidate.

Aspartame was first synthesized as an artificial non-saccharide sweetener used in some beverages and foods. It is a methyl ester of the phenylalanine dipeptide. This sweetener is approximately two hundred times sweeter than table sugar, because of which its calorific contribution is negligible. Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners have a distinctive difference from the normal sugars, especially regarding the onset of sweetness and how long it lasts, though aspartame is the closest in terms of taste to the table sugar. Since the sweetness of aspartame lasts longer than sucrose, it is mostly used together with other artificial sweeteners to produce a more natural sugary taste.

Primarily, aspartame was derived from aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol, which occur naturally in food through the processes of fermentation and synthesis. The direct fermentation process, which takes about three days, produces a contingent of bacteria enough to produce the required amino acids. These bacteria are destroyed at the end of the process to remain with the amino acids. The synthesis process involves a number of chemical pathways, but generally in order to form aspartame phenylalanine is combined with methanol, then with aspartic acid. The solid residue made after the metacatalyst has been taken away is filtered in an aqueous ethanol solution and then recrystallized to give the powder aspartame.

The natural residue components of aspartame are aspartic acid, methanol and phenylalanine, which are realized when this sweetener is broken down once it has been digested. There occurs further digestion, the results being formaldehyde and formic acid, which is believed to be the cause of injury in methanol poisoning if it accumulates. However, for those who have the condition called Phenylketonuria (PKU), the sweetener is not advisable to use simply because phenylalanine is not properly metabolized in this case.

Aspartame holds one significant advantage – it offers a perfect option for diabetics or those on a low calorie diet to enjoy a wide variety of desserts with low fat. Its introduction in diet is good for the reduction of blood sugar levels for people suffering from diabetes.

Much has been said about the benefits of aspartame, but, as a naturopathic nutritionist, I would not use this sweetener chiefly because of its side effects, which include eye and ear complications, psychological imbalances, neurologic complications and allergies.

Although aspartame is currently the best alternative to natural sugar, scientists are still…


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