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How Does Aspartame Affect Appetite?
Annalisa O. Jenner
October 8, 2009
††††††† Many Americans love sweet drinks and beverages, but loathe the weight gain that accompanies the high calorie consumptions. The introduction of diet sodas and other low calorie foods appeared to be the perfect solution to weight concerns, but is aspartame, a major sugar substitute in diet beverages and foods, too good to be true? Aspartame is a major sugar substitute in diet beverages and food. Some organizations claim that diet products made with aspartame are not safe and actually increase weight gain. While dieting and staying trim are such an important goals in America, a diet product that actually promotes weight gain is a huge disadvantage to those seeking a healthy lifestyle. Based up the scientific studies available today, consumers are now able to determine whether aspartame has any effect on a personís appetite and calorie consumption.
What is aspartame?
Aspartame is a sugar substitute, composed of two naturally occurring amino acids (Calorie Control Council, 2006), that is used in many foods and beverages around the world (IFIC Foundation, 2003). It is the most common low-calorie sweetener used in the United States (Romanowski) and found in sugar substitutes such as Equal and NutraSweet (Mayo, 2008). †
Why is it used?
Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than pure sugar, but one serving of a tabletop packet of Equal contains four calories, while granulated sugar contains 11 calories (Nutrient Data Laboratory, 2009). Consuming a can of a diet drink as opposed to a pure sugar drink can save up to 150 calories (IFIC Foundation, 2003). Although four calories do not largely impact a personís diet, the calories from aspartame are empty calories and do not have any nutritional benefits (Mayo, 2008). Diabetics who are unable to consume sugar find aspartame to be a beneficial way to still consume sweetened products without the harmful effects on their blood sugar (Calorie Control Council, 2006). It also does not lead to tooth decay, as pure sugar has shown to do (Calorie Control Council, 2006). For these reasons, aspartame is helpful in achieving a healthier diet and lifestyle.
What is it found in?
Aspartame is commonly found in some medicines, multivitamins, diet sodas, gums, candies, yogurt, tabletop sweeteners, and certain deserts (Calorie Control Council, 2006). If a product contains aspartame, it must be stated on the food label.
† ††††† ††††(Rapp, 2009).
††††††† After the discovery of aspartame, there has been opposing opinions on its safety and true benefits. As early as 1986, the effect of aspartame on food intake has been questioned (Renwick, 1993). One common claim made about aspartame is that it gives no help when dieting, and actually causes a person to consume more calories. The idea is that these sweet but empty calories in aspartame products may satisfy taste, but the body still craves the calories of real sugar. Some claims go even further to blame sugar substitute products with the increase of obesity in America (Whitaker, 2000). Many of the negative claims about aspartame and weight gain seem to be credible, written by doctors and cited by trustworthy sources, but still do not offer scientific proof. The belief that aspartame may indeed cause weight gain is common, but has not universally been proven true.
††††††† Many studies have been conducted on aspartame to better understand its advantages and disadvantages. For the most part, the studies conducted all across the world do not find aspartame to increase a personís appetite.
††††††† A study conducted in the United Kingdom found that aspartame has no effect on a personís appetite. Six adults with no particular dieting habits were chosen by their responses to the Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire and their normal blood screenings. Before the experiment was conducted, the test subjects were asked to consume only certain things at certain times. During the experiment the test subjects consumed a capsule containing either pure aspartame, NutraSweet, which is a product of aspartame, or the control capsule that contained corn flour. Blood samples were taken every 15 minutes for two hours to research the bodyís metabolism and test subjects were instructed to record their assessment of their hunger level with the self-rating VAS. These forms of measurement made mental and biological hunger levels assessable. A liquid meal was given to each of the subjects an hour after the treatment and appetite was measured before and after its consumption. The subjects did not feel any hungrier and the blood tests did not show any difference in metabolism for all three groups; therefore, the researchers concluded that aspartame did not increase any of the subjectsí pre-meal appetite (Hall, Millward, Rogers, & Morgan). This study, although conducted in the United Kingdom, may still apply to Americansí eating behaviors; however, the reliability of this test could have been increased if more subjects would have been studied. The fact that metabolism and subjective hunger levels were both taken into account allows this study to disprove the negative claims about aspartame biologically.
††††††† In a second study, taking place in France, the same results were seen. Twenty-four test subjects had access to one of four beverages, all with different sugar contents, and were able to consume them as much or as little as they desired during experimental sessions over a three-week period.† The four beverages were mineral water, the same mineral water but orange flavored, mineral water flavored with orange and sweetened with sugar, and orange flavored mineral water sweetened with aspartame. The test subjects were given the same lunches and dinners and their food intake was observed and measured on an electronic balance. The experimenters found a slight increase in the sweetened liquids consumed, but nothing of significance. When the food intake was assessed, again no significant difference was found. Since there was no difference in calorie consumption after drinking beverages containing aspartame compared to those that do not, the experimenters were able to conclude that the consumption of aspartame does not increase food intake (Beridot-Therond, Arts, Fantino, & De La Gueronniere, 1998). Once again, this study, although conducted in France could translate to American habits.
††††††† A third review of many studies conducted by A.G. Renwick (1993) disproved the previous idea that aspartame products increase food intake. Renwickís review of previous negative claims about aspartame as well as more current criticisms of aspartame have provided evidence disputing the popular belief that aspartame increases hunger levels. In one study reviewed, not only was there no weight gain with consumption of the sugar substitute product compared to consumption of pure sugar products, but weight loss could be documented (Table 4) (Tordoff & Alleva, 1990). The biological findings that also prove aspartame to be helpful in maintaining a healthy diet include the fact that insulin or glucose levels in the body are not altered after the intake of aspartame, and the insulin and glucose levels are what determine the amount of hunger felt (Renwick, 1993). This review is very useful because possible confounding variables can be ruled out when different studies reach similar results.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† (Tordoff & Alleva, 1990)
Study Results and Conclusions
††††††† Most studies conclude that consuming aspartame does not increase a personís appetite, while some others state that aspartame does increase appetite (Wooley, 1971). These differences in opinion may be due to the fact that hunger and food intake are difficult factors to measure. Diet diaries and awareness that a personís food intake is being observed and recorded is often enough to cause the person to watch what they eat. Another variable could also be that increased food intake due to aspartame has a delayed effect and the studies did not go on long enough for experiments to observe that.
††††††† It is also important to be aware of what individual or group is making these claims. Sugar companies may be quick to promote negative publicity about sugar substitute products since these products may threaten the vitality of the pure sugar business. Alternatively, sugar substitute companies can be too eager to dispute these claims, resulting in consumers fully trusting the aspartame products. These claims are often made by other companies trying to sell a product, either a subscription to a health newsletter or an herbal remedy (Mercola). Also, many of the doctors giving this important warning may not be medical doctors. The best solution when consuming sugar substitutes is to be informed through trustworthy scientific studies.
†††† †(Rebello, 2008).
Safety of aspartame?
Aspartame is considered safe for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration, American Medical Association, American Dietetic Association and the American Diabetes Association (IFIC Foundation, 2003). Although aspartame products have been approved, these organizations still recommend an acceptable daily intake, or AID, of 50 milligrams for an adult (Mayo, 2008). Consuming 50 milligrams or less per day should not be a problematic for most people since that amount of aspartame would be the equivalent of drinking 18-19 cans of diet coke or 97 packets of table top sweetener (Calorie Control Council, 2006). Aspartame is only an unhealthy product when consumed in an enormous amount or by people with the rare genetic disorder, phenylketonuria (Calorie Control Council, 2006).
For many reasons, the media can be quick to judge aspartame as a harmful product with negative side effects, but none of these claims have been backed up by scientific research. The safety and benefits of sugar substitutes in relation to healthy eating has been proven by many credible studies. Substituting aspartame product for pure granulated sugar is a good way to enjoy sweet foods, without indulging in as many calories. A lower calorie diet soda is a better choice than a high calorie regular soda, but a glass of water is always the healthiest choice.
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