Context - Aspartame is a sweetener that is in use for several decades. It is authorized as a food additive in the EU.
The latest data has recently been reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority in the context of a systematic re-evaluation of all food additives in use in Europe.
Various health safety authorities already evaluated it in the past. The evaluation of EFSA of 2002 was previously summarized by GreenFacts.
Aspartame is a dipeptide composed of two amino
acids, phenylalanine and
aspartic acid, and is used for its
very sweet taste. It allows for sweet-tasting food with a much lower caloric
content than sugar. It is one of the most widely used artificial sweetener and
is found in a very wide range of ‘diet’ and
low-calorie products. Over the years
many, there have been claims on the toxicity
of aspartame, in particular its
carcinogenicity, and a very large number of
studies evaluated in depth the safety of this food additive.
What happens to aspartame in the body?
Aspartame is rapidly and completely digested into its components,
aspartic acid (two
amino acids that are part of
natural proteins and that are found in
other foods) as well as some methanol. The
complete digestion of aspartame means that there is no detectable aspartame that
enters the bloodstream.
Each of those breakdown products has been evaluated for its effect on human
Phenylalanine: it is
linked with development problems in the children of mothers who, due to a
genetic disorder (known as
phenylketonuria, or PKU), have very
high levels of phenyalanine in their bloodstream. However, the amount of
phenylalanine due to aspartame consumption at the current ADI is much smaller
than what would cause any health problem.
Aspartic acid: in high
concentration it can affect the balance of neurotransmitters, but this
concentration is never reached with eating aspartame at the current ADI.
Methanol: methanol is
toxic in high concentration, but
again the level at which any toxicity is
seen is much higher than what is reached by the digestion of foods containing
aspartame at the current ADI.
There is also no reliable evidence that links aspartame to cancer.
What is the maximum acceptable dose?
The Scientific Committee concluded that aspartame is not of safety concern at
the current aspartame exposure estimates and at an
Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 40
mg/kg bw/day. Regarding the possible development effects related to
phenylalanine, the Opinion is that,
in human, the concentration reached in human
serum after consumption of aspartame at the
current ADI would never reach levels above recommended limits
By using the data of the industry and of food consumption surveys conducted in
a number of European countries, an estimation level of exposure can be drawn up.
It was found that the highest consumers ingest less than the acceptable daily
After its re-evaluation of aspartame (E 951) as a food additive, the ANS EFSA
Panel concluded that aspartame was not of safety concern related to its
consumption at the current acceptable daily
intake (ADI) of 40 mg/kg bw/day. Therefore, it was also concluded that
there was no reason to revise this current ADI for aspartame.
People suffering from phenylketonurea (PKU), however, could be at risk since
they have to limit their intake of
phenylalanine. Current EU regulations
already impose the labeling of any product containing aspartame as a product
that contains a source of phenylalanine.