Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly studied ingredients in the food supply. It was tested in more than 100 scientific studies before the FDA approved it in 1981. The studies were conducted in laboratory animals and several subpopulations of humans, including healthy infants, children, and adults, lactating women, people with diabetes, obese individuals, and people who are carriers of the rare genetic disease phenylketonuria (PKU). Individuals with PKU cannot properly metabolize phenylalanine, one of aspartame’s components. After approval, extensive additional research was done. The results further confirmed the safety of aspartame for the general population.
Upon digestion, aspartame breaks down into three components (aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol), which are then absorbed into the blood and used in normal body processes. Neither aspartame nor its components accumulate in the body. These components are used in the body in the same ways as when they are derived from common foods. Further, the amounts of these components from aspartame are small compared to the amounts from other food sources. For example, a serving of nonfat milk provides about 6 times more phenylalanine and 13 times more aspartic acid compared to an equivalent amount of diet beverage sweetened 100% with aspartame. Likewise, a serving of tomato juice provides about 6 times more methanol compared to an equivalent amount of diet beverage with aspartame.
Methanol is a natural and harmless breakdown product of many commonly consumed foods. The methanol produced during the digestion of aspartame is identical to that which is provided in much larger amounts from many fruits, vegetables and their juices and is part of the normal diet. In fact, a glass of tomato juice provides about 6 times as much methanol as an equivalent amount of diet beverage sweetened with aspartame. Regardless of the source, after methanol is formed it is further broken down through normal body processes. Numerous scientific studies have shown that the amount of methanol one could consume from aspartame-containing foods and beverages could not reach harmful levels.
The ADI, expressed on a mg/kg body weight/day basis, is a very conservative estimate of the amount of a sweetener that can safely be consumed on a daily basis over a person’s lifetime. The FDA has set the ADI for aspartame at 50 mg/kg of body weight/day. The ADI for aspartame is the equivalent of a 70 kg (154 lb.) person consuming about 20 cans of aspartame-sweetened beverage or about 100 sachets of tabletop sweetener with aspartame per day.