Aspartame: Definition, Examples, Alternatives

aspartame definition, uses, safety
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Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that contains very few calories and can be used in place of sugar. The food additive is a combination of two amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Dieters often use aspartame to reduce calories in their food and lose weight.

Also known as phenylalanine aspartame

Aspartame pronunciation: "as-par-tame"

Common misspellings: aspertame, aspertine

Examples:  Switching from a regular soda to iced tea sweetened with aspartame helped April cut 150 calories from her daily diet.

Definition of Aspartame and Common Uses

Aspartame is approved as an artificial sweetener by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The sweetener does provide some calories when you add it to your food or beverage, but you are likely to use much less of it because it is 200 times sweeter than sugar. 

Aspartame is marketed and sold under several different names, including NutraSweet and Equal. You might recognize those brand names from the colorful packets you see next to the sugar on your table when you visit a diner or restaurant. Aspartame is also used in many packaged foods. 

Examples of foods that may be sweetened with aspartame include:

  • diet soft drinks
  • powdered drinks
  • chewing gum
  • dried pudding or jello mixes
  • some cold breakfast cereals
  • some dairy products
  • dried dessert mixes
  • frozen desserts

Aspartame is generally not used in baked goods because it loses its sweetness when it is heated. To see if your food contains aspartame, you can check the ingredients list.

Some food manufacturers also provide this statement “Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine,” on the package. 

Is Aspartame Safe?

Even though the artificial sweetener has come under fire from a number of natural food organizations, government agencies, and large health organizations continue to stand by the safety of aspartame.

There are, however, some people who should avoid the sweetener.

If you have a condition called phenylketonuria (PKU), you should follow a special diet that limits or completely eliminates aspartame. Some other dieters also choose to avoid aspartame because they get headaches or other symptoms that they feel are caused by the sweetener.

Should I Use Aspartame to Lose Weight?

The use of aspartame, or any artificial sweetener, for weight loss is a hotly debated topic. Diet, nutrition and health experts often weigh in on opposite sides of the argument. 

Some studies have shown that when dieters use artificial sweeteners to cut calories, they are able to lose weight successfully. But other studies have shown that using a high-intensity sweetener like aspartame may change the way you taste and crave food, causing you to crave increasingly sweet and unhealthy treats. Most researchers agree that more research is needed before we know for sure if artificial sweeteners are good for weight loss.

But the research may not matter to you.

You probably already know if you feel better during the day if you have a diet soda or a piece of sugar-free candy as a treat. If a low-calorie or no-calorie sweet treat helps you to stick to your diet, then it may be something for you to keep in your eating plan. But if you find that you can't drink your diet cola without a bag of chips or a slice of pizza, then you may want to choose water instead.

Alternatives to Aspartame

If you're trying to lose weight and you want to avoid foods with aspartame, you have a few options. There are other no-calorie or low-calorie sweeteners on the market, including saccharin (Sweet and Low, for example) sucralose (Splenda, for example) and sweeteners made from stevia.  The FDA has also approved a high-intensity sweetener called advantame which is estimated to be 20,000 times as sweet as sugar.

But many dieters find that learning to adjust their palate is the easiest way to cut back on sweeteners and on sugar, as well. Reducing your intake of sweetened food may also help to improve your diet. So how do you make the change? Opt for fresh or frozen fruit when you are craving a sweet treat. Drink water instead of sweetened beverages and use activity instead of sugar for a boost of energy. These healthy habits may be hard to adopt initially, but they can help you to feel better and eat better for life.

*This article was edited by Malia Frey, Weight Loss Expert


Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for use in Food in the United States. U.S.Food and Drug Administration. Accessed: February 22, 2016.

Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer. National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health. Accessed: February 22, 2016.

Qing Yang. " Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings." Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine June 2010.

Aspartame. American Cancer Society. Accessed: February 22, 2016.

Center for Science in the Public Interest. Chemical Cuisine. Learn About Food Additives. Accessed: February 22, 2016.

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