Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is used in many products. Many people like it, but I do not recommend it. For one thing, many people feel much healthier and stronger when they stop using it. Second, it seems pretty clear to me that aspartame-sweetened foods do not promote weight loss. But just how was this very popular product invented? Actually, invented is probably the wrong word. Aspartame was “discovered.”
It happened back in 1965 when a chemist working for a drug company named Searle was working on creating a new agent to fight stomach ulcers. Drug discovery is trial-and-error work and this chemist, Mr. James M. Schlatter, had created something that did not work against ulcers. The story goes that he accidentally tasted his new drug when he licked his fingers after handling the substance. He noticed how sweet it tasted. In fact, aspartame is more than 100 times sweeter than sugar.
Aspartame does not taste exactly like sugar. In fact its sweet taste lasts longer than sugar, so food companies often mix aspartame with other artificial sweeteners to create more of a sugar-like experience. However, among all artificial sweeteners to date, aspartame tastes most like sugar. Its low-calorie profile owes to the fact that only tiny amounts are needed to create the sweetness of a great deal of sugar.
You would think a product like this would hit the market right away, but extensive testing was required to introduce a laboratory product into the food supply. It took many years because findings from the studies were controversial, frequently challenged, and sometimes “mixed,” meaning that results differed. By 1983, the FDA approved aspartame for use in carbonated beverages, but because aspartame changes chemically when exposed to heat it was not approved for use in baked goods or confections until 1993. Europe approved aspartame in 1994.
Although the labs at Searle had invented aspartame, the rights to aspartame were sold a couple of times and patents have since expired, meaning that aspartame is made by other companies today all over the world.
There are a lot of controversies about aspartame. You can read all over the internet how it causes everything from brain cancer to seizures and how it got approved by the FDA through some shady dealings. Since I tend to stay away from alarmist claims, I do not dig too deeply into some of those reports.
However, that being said, I am no fan of aspartame. It is not a natural food product and I am convinced that many people do feel better when they eat more natural foods. Plus the main purpose of aspartame is to be a weight loss aid, and there is growing evidence that aspartame not only fails to help people lose weight—it encourages weight gain.