January 12, 2016
The artificial sweetener aspartame is used in more than 6,000 products worldwide, including Diet Coke products. It used to be part of Diet Pepsi, too, until the company swapped out it out for another artificial sweetener (a Splenda blend) in response to consumer demand.
Senior vice president of Pepsi’s flavors unit, Seth Kaufman, noted, “Diet cola drinkers in the U.S. told us they wanted aspartame-free Diet Pepsi.”1 The move was an attempt by Pepsi to grab a corner of the market it currently misses — health-conscious consumers.
Is PepsiCo Embracing a New Healthier Side?
The move to take aspartame out of Diet Pepsi is only one of Pepsi’s recent “healthy” moves. They also announced plans for several thousand “Hello Goodness” vending machines in 2016, which replace the standard soda, candy and chips with healthier options like hummus cups.
Also in the works for 2016 are an organic Gatorade formulation and, ironically, a non-GMO labeled line of Tropicana juices.
The latter is ironic because Pepsi spent nearly $10 million in lobbying efforts from 2013 to 2015 to defeat legislation calling for mandatory state and federal labeling of products containing GMO ingredients.2
In fact, only five organizations spent more to defeat the measures than Pepsi. Pepsi spent even more than Monsanto! As reported by The Motley Fool:3
“Pepsi, along with fellow beverage Goliath Coca-Cola, turns out to be one of the very highest spenders in persuading the government to forego the labeling of GMO ingredients.
Introducing products that seek to tap into consumer demand for non-GMO ingredients, while actively attempting to thwart labeling policy with the brute force of millions of dollars, invites the criticism that Pepsi is greenwashing its image.
That is, the company may be cynically donning a guise of social consciousness while profiting from positions its target customers find abhorrent.
If you carry this reasoning further, the economic impact of a few thousand machines selling healthy snack and beverage items to Pepsi is infinitesimal in comparison to the billions the company reaps from sodas and snacks like Doritos, which are often popularly labeled as junk food.”
Why Are Americans Becoming Wary of Aspartame?
As more research links aspartame to health risks, increasing numbers of people are looking to avoid it in their diets. That’s why Pepsi was proactive in removing it from their diet soda.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved aspartame for use in dry foods in 1981 and as a general artificial sweetener in 1996.
Unlike other artificial sweeteners that move through the body without being digested, aspartame can be metabolized by your body and exerts a number of concerning effects.
For instance, aspartame has been found to increase hunger ratings compared to glucose or water and is associated with heightened motivation to eat (even more so than other artificial sweeteners like saccharin or acesulfame potassium).4
For a substance often used in “diet” products, the fact that aspartame may actually increase weight gain is incredibly misleading. Aspartame also exerts changes on the microbial composition in your gut, the consequences of which are unknown.
However, emerging evidence suggests gut microbes play a role in metabolic diseases that aspartame is known to increase, pointing to alteration of gut microbial composition as one of its mechanisms of harm. According to research published in PLOS One:5
“Regular consumption of artificially sweetened soft drinks is associated with disorders of the metabolic syndrome, including abdominal obesity, insulin resistance and/or impaired glucose tolerance, dyslipidemia and high blood pressure.
In particular, daily diet soda consumption (primarily sweetened with N-a-L-aspartyl-L-phenylalanine methyl ester, aspartame, APM), is reported to increase the relative risk of type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome by 67 percent and 36 percent respectively.
Given this data, and the presence of APM in over 6000 food products, there is a need to understand the potential role of APM sweetened products in the development and maintenance of metabolic disease.”
Independent Studies Link Aspartame with Depression, Headaches and Other Adverse Effects
A 2004 BMJ study gave aspartame a clean bill of health, in part because it noted 100 percent of industry-funded studies concluded aspartame is safe.6
Yet, in an editorial response published in BMJ in 2005, it’s revealed that 92 percent of independently funded studies found aspartame may cause adverse effects, including depression and headaches.7[Emphasis added]
A recent study also found the administration of aspartame to rats resulted in detectable methanol even after 24 hours, which might be responsible for inducing oxidative stress in the brain.8
Aspartame is made up of aspartic acid and phenylalanine. But the phenylalanine has been synthetically modified to carry a methyl group as that provides the majority of the sweetness.
That phenylalanine methyl bond, called a methyl ester, is very weak, which allows the methyl group on the phenylalanine to easily break off and form methanol.
When aspartame is in liquid form, it breaks down into methyl alcohol, or methanol, which is then converted into formaldehyde and represents the root of the problem with aspartame.