Sweet or sour? Taming the myths of aspartame.


Are alternatives to sugar a blessing of a curse?  Photo credit: George Hodan, via PublicDomainPictures.

The full taste of sugar without the calories?  Sounds almost too good to be true!

No doubt at some point in all our lives, we have opted for the sugar-free option when buying food or drink.  In fact, these items are usually widely advertised as being so, sporting a “SUGAR-FREE” or “DIET” label to entice consumers.

In this diet-frenzied world, both the media and dietitians around us force this idea that sugar is the enemy.  So, it would make sense that these are the products which we should be consuming…right?

But how good for you are they?  Surely there must be a catch…


The quest for sugar-free sugar

Artificial sweeteners have been around since the late 19th century, when the first sweetener “saccharin” was discovered accidently during a search for a new drug by American university researchers.  This began the all-out war in a body-conscious America, with new artificial sweeteners being developed left right and centre.

Saccharin – the first artificial sweetener.  Author’s photo.

Aspartame, the most popular artificial sweetener these days, was accidently discovered by another drug researcher in 1946 when he licked his finger to turn a page and noticed it was super sweet.

The structure of aspartame – very similar to many natural molecules in the body.  Author’s photo.

An adult’s average daily energy intake is 8,700 kilojoules, and 1 gram of aspartame has only 17 kilojoules of energy.  As aspartame is also 200x sweeter than sugar, less is needed to provide the same level of sweetness and therefore the energy content would be insignificant to our daily intake.

Sugar without the calories – why do people doubt this miracle molecule?


Sickly sweet?

Artificial sweeteners have been thought to be dangerous for decades.  Photo credit: deepakrit, via Pixabay.

Aspartame has been a hot topic of discussion in society, with sources claiming that it can cause cancer, increase chance of developing diabetes, and even causing seizures.  You’ll be thankful to know that these claims have no significant research behind them, and many studies actually disprove these claims.

However, there is an argument that sugar supplements as a whole are ineffective at aiding weight loss, and actually lead to weight gain!

……. Now how does that make any sense?

Are alternatives to sugar a blessing of a curse?  Photo credit: mahmoud99725, via Flickr.

Like many things, too much of something can lead to a development of addiction and cravings and subsequent weight gain.  Looking at this argument from a completely numbers view, there are far fewer calories in artificial sweeteners, so that’s clearly not to blame.  Then what is?

The answer may lie in how one diets.

Rationalising eating more bad food cause you’re having a “diet drink” for instance is a common occurrence for many people new to weight watching.  The kilojoules of energy they are gaining form the bad food far outweighs the energy saved from not having a sugary drink, so it would be like not even dieting at all!

It’s also worth considering that if you’re having excessive amounts of this drink versus water, this may also contribute to the weight gain, with lots of water being an essential part of a healthy diet.

Therefore, it all lies in moderation.


The sweet truth

For those wanting to lose weight, it boils down to exercise and a monitored diet, not a miracle cure.  Sugar-free drinks aren’t out to get you, but they also aren’t enough alone to help one lose weight.

So, drink with ease knowing that you’re doing your body no harm.



More information:

Artificial sweeteners

Weight loss strategies



6 Responses to “Sweet or sour? Taming the myths of aspartame.”

  1. Benjamin Andrikopoulos says:

    Hi Sof!

    1) Yeah for sure the no sugar fizzy drink will have less calories by HEAPS and is actually better for your teeth in terms of less cavities due to no sugar (but the over consumption of carbonated drinks is another story with the acid in it of course haha)

    2) Definitely! It’d still be a diuretic and not replacing any lost water needed for a healthy metabolism and body functions so definitely still in moderation!

    3) There have been various studies which say the brain actually KNOWS when it’s consumed artificial sweetener and when it’s consumed sugar. Here’s just one article I found: https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2016/07/13/why-artificial-sweeteners-can-increase-appetite.html

    Thanks for the great questions!

  2. Benjamin Andrikopoulos says:

    Facts will always prevail especially in these ethical arguments – thanks for reading Kelley!

  3. Benjamin Andrikopoulos says:

    Thanks Daniel! The best discoveries in science seem accidental haha

  4. abjerre says:

    Thank you, Ben! Great, simple piece.
    I just had this discussion with my housemate. It’s good to have you on my side. Haha.

    But just to clarify, let me know if I got this right;
    1) Say if I really wanted a fizzy drink, just the drink, nothing else. It would be “better” to opt for the sugar free/diet one, if i wanted to limit calorie intake. This is a ‘Either/or’ scenario.

    2) Say I wanted to lose weight, I cannot say ‘Oh, I’ll have a diet coke because it is just as fine as water, there is no sugar’

    Also, do you have any information on the claim that articificial sugar makes you more hungry?

    Cheers, Sof

  5. Kelley Leech says:

    Loved reading this post Ben! I’ve often heard about harmful effects of artificial sweeteners, but never really known the truth. Thank you for laying down the facts for me!

  6. Daniel Hutchinson says:

    Awesome post Ben.
    It had a great flow and was full of heaps of really cool facts. My favourite is definitely the story of how aspartame was discovered.