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What is Aspartame?

Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Aspartame is a sweetener used in some sugar-free cough drops.
Aspartame contains methanol.
A glass of diet soda containing aspartame.
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  • Originally Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 July 2014
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Aspartame is a chemically-produced artificial sweetener that is commonly used as a sugar substitute in manufactured foods and drinks. Food scientists create aspartame through a series of different amino acid syntheses, and the resulting compound is roughly 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is most stable in liquids, which makes it a popular choice for “diet” sodas and fruit drinks. Manufacturers typically need so little to create a sweet taste that the compound is virtually calorie-free, and most government regulatory agencies and food safety boards around the world have approved aspartame for human consumption. It is not without its critics, though. Some studies link the compound to cancer and certain degenerative diseases, the risks of which become more pronounced the more a person consumes.

Common Uses

Most diet sodas and “sugar-free” fruit drinks contain aspartame. The sweetener disperses really well in liquid, and in most cases just a few drops will go a long way. It is also used in some sugar-free candies, chewing gums, and cough drops, and is frequently available as a powdered sugar substitute that can be added to coffee or other beverages. Powdered aspartame is marketed under the brand names NutraSweet® and Equal® in many parts of the world; AminoSweet® is another name for the same thing. Product labels in the European Union often refer to it by its registered name of E 951.

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Stability and Shelf Life

The compound tends to lose its effectiveness when exposed to intense heat, which means that it is not commonly used in baked goods or other foods that need to be cooked. When it gets hot, its proteins break down which can cause a lot of trouble in recipes. Batters often get runny, cookies dry out, and foods can take on a bitter, almost acidic taste. Natural sugar substitutes like stevia or agave tend to work better when heat is required.

The sweetener also breaks down under high pH values. The pH of most sodas is low enough for the compound to remain stable for a few months before it begins to lose its potency. This is one reason soda companies frequently put an expiration date on their products. Expired soda isn’t necessarily harmful, but the taste isn’t likely to be very good. In powdered form, the sweetener stays fresh and stable for about a year in most cases.

Taste Profile

Many people find that this sweetener tastes different than sugar. It tends to last longer in the mouth, which has led many in the food industry to name it a “long sweetener,” and it is usually also very intense. Manufacturers typically only need to use a very little bit in recipes, often far less than they would use if they were adding ordinary sugar. Sodas and candies made with the chemical substitute are usually somewhat easy to differentiate from their “regular” counterparts on taste alone.

How It’s Made

Chemically speaking, aspartame is a “methyl ester,” which is a class of chemicals that come from organic, mostly vegetable sources. Scientists isolate several amino acids in order to create the compound, and the process requires a great degree of precision in temperature, timing, and methodology. The key components are phenylalanine, aspartic acid, and methanol.

The sweetener was discovered accidentally by a chemist in the 1960s who was researching ways to make an effective ulcer drug. According to most accounts, he synthesized the amino acids as part of his preparations, then accidentally licked his finger after touching the solution. Once he realized how sweet it was and how easy it was to create, he began looking for ways to market it in to the food and beverage industry. Aspartame entered the manufactured food scene around 1975 in most places, and has been approved as a commercial sugar substitute in the United States, Europe, and most other parts of the world since the early 1980s.

Safety Concerns and Controversy

Despite being widely approved by most governments, the sweetener is not without its critics. There are a number of people in the medical community who question the wisdom of substituting sugar, a natural compound, with something that has been chemically designed. Some studies have also attempted to link heavy aspartame consumption with an increased risk of cancer, degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and a range of neurological disorders.

At the same time, a roughly equal number of studies show that the compound is generally safe when consumed more moderately. Most diet sodas and sugar-free foods that use the sweetener do so in very small amounts. In most cases, a person would have to eat or drink a vast number of aspartame-containing foods and beverages in order to even get close to the “dangerous” levels quoted in most research.

Specific Health Risks

The compound is known to be dangerous in any amount for people with phenylketonuria (PKU), a disease that makes the body produce too much tyrosine when phenylalanines are ingested. Those with PKU should avoid any products that contain the sugar substitute since they pose a significant health threat no matter the amount ingested. Even for generally healthy people, too much of the sweetener all at once can cause problems like mild stomach upset and diarrhea.

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Discuss this Article

anon339668
Post 55

Aspartame may be good, or it may be bad. We'll never know for sure, though, because when studies are done, but the media is quick to blow it up with their own biased opinions.

The latest example I can find is a Harvard study completed in October 2012 in which they initially stated aspartame is linked to lymphoma and leukemia. However, the day before they published the findings, they retracted that finding, stating, “Upon review of the findings, the consensus of our scientific leaders is that the data is weak, and that BWH Media Relations was premature in the promotion of this work. We apologize for the time you have invested in this story.” (Check NBC News for more information.)

Yet only a few months later, two separate articles, written by non-scientific media authors, attempted to rationalize their belief of aspartame being bad by quoting this very study that Harvard retracted as being too weak to be reliable (sources below).

CLN (Conscious Life News), posted by Lisa Garber on Jan 17, 2013)

The Liberty Beacon, published February 22, 2013, filed under HEALTH

So you tell me: do we really have enough unbiased information to say for sure whether or not aspartame is safe or not?

anon337146
Post 54

Anything that is sugar free is bad for you because it contains aspartame. Aspartame destroys brain cells and makes you become really stupid as you get older. The government is replacing everything with sugar free items. It all makes sense because they want to be able to control everyone and how can they do it if we are all advanced and smart?

I walked into Walmart and all the jello is sugar free, gum is sugar free, and most sodas are that way. What next? I'm not touching anything that is sugar free. The jello has sucralose in it. It's really gross.

anon335315
Post 52

Aspartame isn't banned because the FDA is an absolute joke! If you think your government is really there to protect you from greedy, sick corporations, think again! Our government says they fight terrorism while they allow corporations to terrorize our foods.

anon324878
Post 51

Dear God, no. Do not drink it if you are pregnant.

anon310162
Post 50

As a registered dietitian, I use an evidence-based approach, which means I evaluate scientific research to make informed decisions. It’s important to remind readers that aspartic acid and phenylalanine are two amino acids (components of protein). As you mentioned, when the two are combined, an intensely sweet product is formed.

There have been extensive studies on the safety of aspartame: The National Cancer Institute (NCI) released a statement that there is no sound scientific evidence that any artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious health problems.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the World Health Organization (WHO) and regulatory agencies in more than 100 countries have reviewed aspartame and found it safe for use.

Additionally, a new review in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care supports the use of non-nutritive sweeteners as a way to help consumers with weight management, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Keeping this in mind, I encourage my clients, which include food and beverage companies such as Coca-Cola, that moderation is the most effective approach to a healthy lifestyle with all things including sweeteners. --Pat B., MA, RD, FADA

anon309481
Post 49

They say "drink it up" so they can keep getting you sick so you "need" the meds the mds/pharma corps have to make you better. They put on a "cure whatever" and expect you to believe you're helping. There are other sicknesses besides breast cancer and AIDS, and they have cures, but we live in a society where money matters more.

Do your research and stop being so jaded. How many people would lose jobs because there is a cure for a disease. Do not consume it, period.

anon237943
Post 47

cancer society says it's ok, so drink up.

anon237846
Post 46

@Anon91769, who stated, "P.S. To the guy who thinks the government is slowly killing us with artificial sweeteners: why?”

I am saying get your head out of there. It's dark and smelly, and not good for you. You are full of your own limited perspective (though you think it vast). They are killing us, not trying. And the true criminals, who created the unconstitutional non "federal no reserve" are the ones who own the government – own it. Don't thunk so? That's because you are duped. Hell, they have put in documents repeatedly their intentions. Look around at what's going on, (and not through the lenses of the major media, because they own the corporations, thus the media). Wake up! These creeps worship 40 foot owls and perform "mock" human sacrifices. (Reference "bohemian grove”) . Wake up. They just passed a bill, (like "passing,” get it?) The government-jacked owned whores "passed" the ndaa, and in it they say bestiality is good and all right for the troops, and that the americans, the people in the usa are the targets, and can disappear, with no warrant, no lawyer, no trial, no info released to friends family, no release, and can be sent out of the country (as in offshore torture). Wake up. Infowars continue. Think.

Turn the TV off. Use the search bar, like you breathe, get informed, and do it fast, and do it now.

How is it they have hidden a skyscraper that came straight down in 6.6 seconds from you for ten years? Or a third skyscraper at the World Trade Center on 9-11. How? Building 7. Get a glaring clue.

By the way, when asked about building 7 last spring, Rumsfeld stated, "I never heard of it. What is that?" He was lying again, as they do, to your face. This is the same Rumsfeld who has direct connections to FDA approval of the addictive, deadly poison feces known as "aspartame" (splenda, etc.). Listen to Norman Dodd's interviews, Aaron Russo's, Kurt Haskell. Wake up.

anon210144
Post 45

There is so much misinformation on the internet (read: ignorance on display) regarding aspartame. I find it utterly amazing! The Joslin Diabetes Institute is affiliated with Harvard Medical. Go read what they say, and it's not some of this bat-crap crazy stuff.

anon146182
Post 43

Aspartame was brought to us by Donald Rumsfeld after our government banned it. It is bad for our health, causes neurological disorders and others.

Sodium fluoride is also a known toxin but the government wants it in our water supplies. These are known for dumbing down populations. Please do research on these.

America is the greatest nation, I think, and the United States school children are ranked #17 in the world on math and science scores. what does that tell you? America is lulled to sleep so other countries (China) can rise to new levels with out competing so much with the Americans. Do a study and see. Brady, Ohio

anon143183
Post 40

I was never sold on the arguments against aspartame thinking it was all a load of nonsense and "why would they allow it if it was bad"?

My New Years resolution was to give up diet cola and aspartame to see what happened. Three weeks later my chronic eczema has disappeared.

When did my eczema appear? Two years ago when I went on a health kick and ate and drank diet foods and sodas. Full of -- Aspartame. Just sayin'.

anon135042
Post 39

I do not trust any entity to provide me with the whole truth regarding foodstuffs. Everyone seems to have an agenda. Long ago I became aware that "food" is not always as it's purported to be.

If you are ever curious as to how many of those "chemicals" on your ingredients labels are actually healthy, nutritious foodstuffs simply research it. The truth will likely cause you some discomfort, but be assured that will go away when you realize that you are much wiser for knowing it.

I read every label before I decide to buy a product. I know what I'm consuming, and it's not full of toxic chemicals. Food is food and chemicals are for the laboratory, not my table. The difference is fairly clear. If a guy mixed it up in a lab chances are it's no good to mammals, or it would be photosynthesizing or breathing already.

Be wise folks. Be educated about what you put in your bodies. Seriously. Peace.

anon131821
Post 38

@anon91769 It's not smart to think that aspartame is okay for you and yeah everything is a "chemical" but this is not good for you. You are just believing everything you read.

aspartame is a very dangerous chemical and you really don't think the government is trying to poison us? well, why don't you do some more research about this and other things and look into all those vaccinations that you probably get or give to your children. they have horrible things in them like mercury, formaldehyde, sodium chloride, sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, aluminum, thimerosal, phosphates, sorbitol, neomycin antibiotic, streptomycin and also cancer viruses. oh yes, cancer is a virus and it does not come from the sun either. You can get it from all the high fructose corn syrup you all love to eat and drink and also from your beloved aspartame.

Oh, this is hopeless, though.

anon131487
Post 37

Aspartame isn't okay to drink at all? Why would you even ask if it would be okay to drink it while pregnant?

anon118886
Post 36

Rachelh: No, it is not safe. look up the dangers of aspartame. If you are not sure it is safe. why drink it and risk the health of your soon to be child? Just don't drink it. You might look into the dangers of GMO foods also. Just because you are not paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you.

anon102228
Post 35

Well about a year ago, I starting drinking Crystal Light Energy and I loved it! I could give up soda forever! It was full of caffeine and felt so much healthier than pop. A couple days ago I was told the symptoms I have had for the last two months are rheumatoid arthritis. Never had I had these symptoms in my life until this year - the same year I starting drinking Crystal Light Energy. So there you go.

Here I am with a lifetime ahead of me full of pain - all because I was trying to be healthy and not drink sugary pop! Thanks! I am your guinea pig now.

anon102161
Post 34

I love the arguments against aspartame!

I had a seizure and it was because I had a diet Coke, then I remembered the other seizure.

Aspartame is an ant poison? The internet dispels that stupid myth.

"I've been researching this for two weeks..." Are you a researcher? Or do you mean you've been reading stuff on the internet? Go join a commune and leave us alone, thanks.

anon95430
Post 33

kitty14: "The only mints I'll eat now are certain kinds of altoids because they are natural and don't have chemicals in them." So you are saying, in all actuality, that natural things don't have chemicals in them? This line refutes your entire argument.

anon91769
Post 32

I have a BSA in Food Science, so I thought I would contribute a little to this debate. Everything you eat is made up of a combination of chemicals, including aspartame. This can be a strange thought for some.

I hear people say all the time that they don't want to eat some strange "chemicals". Well folks, we are chemicals, the food we eat and the air we breathe are all chemicals. Some come naturally from the environment and some are synthesized in the lab, but regardless of their origin, a synthesized or a "natural" (which is a word without a definition by the way) chemical will be processed in the body identically.

Now, table sugar is, of course, a different chemical compound than aspartame. You may find it interesting that lab rats fed an excessive amount of table sugar have also been found to develop various forms of cancer. To put it simply, moderation is key. Just about anything in excess can be found to cause all sorts of medical problems.

Life is about options and weighing your pros and cons. We know that reducing sugar intake can reduce the risk of diabetes and of obesity, but we may still crave sweets. Aspartame fills a niche in the market, providing a happy alternative for those in need of fewer calories or fewer grams of carbs. Moderation...

In regards to aspartame causing cravings for sweets, this has been found to be true. Your body needs some sugar, so when it is all replaced by aspartame it causes the body to crave what it needs.

It's important to have balance in your sweets and allow yourself some real sugar in moderation.

Aspartame is an ingredient in that lubricant because table sugar would cause a yeast infection. Some lubricants may contain table sugar, but these are not intended for use "down there". If you want a sweet lube, it's going to have artificial sugar in it. It is perfectly safe. If you smeared syrup on your body, you wouldn't be concerned about the calories you were consuming because, well, your skin doesn't drink it. The same is true even if you are limiting your aspartame intake.

On another note, some of you may be interested in my next point. I have heard from many people that they refuse to eat ingredients with long chemical names they have never heard of. Food Scientists (the research chefs making that new flavor of chips, drinks, cakes etc) have their own language just as doctors or lawyers do. You wouldn't refuse a doctor's services just because you didn't know what conjunctivitis was, would you? It's pink eye in the common vernacular. In the same way, table salt can be referred to as Sodium chloride on a food label.

For very commonly used words, the common term is often used, but there are so many edible chemicals in the world, most are just referred to with their real chemical name whether that be calcium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate. So don't be afraid of words you don't know.

I completely support researching the words you don't know and being your own health advocate, but don't just throw out the product because the words are long.

I just wanted to present a slightly different point of view. Oh, and yes, I do agree that profit can often blind good judgment, but studies have repeatedly shown this chemical to be reasonably safe. As reasonably safe as that milk you drink and that bread you eat.

We don't know everything, and maybe in a few years a study will come out that proves once and for all that it is a dangerous food, but right now with the information at hand, I will keep right on eating my sugar free, aspartame sweetened strawberry jello.

p.s. To the guy who thinks the government is slowly killing us with artificial sweeteners: why? why do you think they are trying to kill us? why would they choose a product which you clearly can make a choice not to consume? and why is it that you are the only person aware of this evil plot?

anon81416
Post 28

I just bought some of the new Crystal Light packet stuff with 5 calories and 0 sugar in it. Had no idea it had aspartame in it and took a swig and wow! holy sweet. I even added a lot more water to it. I poured it down the drain. No more in this house that's for sure!

kitty14
Post 26

Okay so here's the real deal for all of you aspartame eaters and drinkers. Aspartame is the feces of a genetically engineered bacteria that kills people! It's like antifreeze for animals, it tastes sweet but it kills you.

Now I know most of you are probably thinking "yeah right where did this person hear that crap?" Well it's from research and time that I put into my day. I'm not stupid. I do research about these things and you should, too. Everyone needs to wake up and realize what is being put into our food and drinks; it's all the government that plans this crap out and they do it on purpose to kill us.

Aspartame has many different names too, and they are putting into more and more food that isn't even considered "sugar free" or "diet food." They put it into gum and candy. Just read the ingredients. The only mints I'll eat now are certain kinds of altoids because they are natural and don't have chemicals in them.

So people, please do research and look into these things and whoever reads this and eats sugar free food and drinks, stop now! It's slowly killing you. You think I just do this for fun, but no, I want to warn everyone of the dangers of how dangerous this is for everyone. And since I stopped eating and drinking all this poison my blood sugars have gotten much better.

I have been a type 1 diabetic for 18 years now and I ate and drank all that diet crap my whole life. I didn't know how bad it was until just recently in the past year I started realizing things and did research. So you should, too.

Well that's all for now. Thanks for reading and for your time and consideration and I hope all of you who get this critical information will start waking up to what is really going on around you and help others into finding out the truth.

anon76036
Post 25

I have a question. I am on a low-carbohydrate diet to lose weight and I have recently found out about this aspartame. It replaces a decent amount of things I enjoy eating/drinking, so I decided to see if I could find products like dietary pop, cordial, jelly etc. Basically, just whatever I could find that was something quick and tasty to eat.

Unfortunately, English supermarkets don't possess such products so it looks like either I could risk it with aspartame or try a different diet.

It's also possible to cut out both (meaning I would only be eating basics such as eggs, vegetables, cheese and meat, which is all very well but not necessarily if you want something quick.)

Besides that, sweet confectionery is one of the things in life I adore and most importantly - It keeps me happy.

So, I was just wondering; is there something that is sweet, not dangerous and low-in-carb? Is there anything it all? It sounds like a stupid question to me but I honestly don't know.

anon70909
Post 24

Wow! FDA, drug pushers on the corner! What's the difference? If it's (legal) makes money, in this country, it's ok, doesn't matter if it kills you or makes you sick, as long as it's legal and it makes money.

Lesson: remember this is America, and it's about money, not people, for all those who are new to the planet or didn't get the memo about money in America.

anon67574
Post 23

20: "You are all falling for stupid articles trying to scare you. I've been doing research on this stuff for the past two weeks..."

Wow! You have been researching for a whole two weesks? Are you serious? You must be an expert.

anon67454
Post 22

I wonder if aspartame has any side affects if used in a lubricant? I recently bought one not realizing it had aspartame in it. I don't want it to go to waste at the same time I'm reluctant to use it because of the aspartame.

anon65483
Post 21

I would not drink this if I were pregnant. Why would you even think about putting an unnatural chemical into your body while pregnant?

anon53535
Post 20

You are all falling for stupid articles trying to scare you. I've been doing research on this stuff for the past two weeks and the original worry about aspartame isn't even one of the effects mentioned here. And on top of that the article even says that it shouldn't be a problem.

anon40467
Post 19

Thank you to poster of comment 6, you have done your research well. I started researching aspartame after a talk eith my sister about it. according to what she says, it works wonders as ant posion. thought I would throw that out there in case anyone has an ant problem to tend to: just get a pack of Equal!

anon38498
Post 18

I was checking out apertame because every time i eat or drink something with apertame, my throat seems to swell up and have a hard time swallowing. i don't think it's an allergic reaction but it doesn't feel right. I don't trust that product at all.

anon27301
Post 17

*Thank you so much for sharing your stories*! I'm doing a high school paper for English why soda should be banned from high schools! They took out our regular sugar sodas such as dr.p, coke, etc. They now put in all diet sodas, coke zero, sprite zero, diet dr.p, etc. "because they thought we were and unhealthy school with all this sugar" I *just about died*!

After reading your stories on how it affected you and your family, i'm trying to get the district to change our vending machines to stop selling diets and anything with aspartame! *Wish me luck*!

anon22349
Post 15

I will strongly advise everyone to stay away from artificial sweeteners, particularly diet sodas. I have never been a diet soda addict. In parties or get-togethers, I used to have diet coke. I would also have it otherwise on an average 1 can a week. Last week, I had a can of diet coke plus (with vitamins) along with my lunch at work. Soon after, I started burping, which is a little unusual for me. Within 15-20 mins, I had a seizure. My co-workers were alarmed and called 911. I was taken to the ER. On the way, I regained consciousness. The EEG and CT scan came out normal. After about 4 hours, I was back home. When I tried to recall, I remembered that I had had a similar seizure about 6 months back while drinking diet coke in a restaurant.

I checked out on the internet and after much research, realized that aspartame is the real culprit. It is a slow poison. I have vowed never to have aspartame in any form in future.

anon21474
Post 12

this is very true now i know that i cant eat a lot of that junk i just dont get how diet pop is worse for you then regular.

anon17710
Post 10

hi all I just wanted to share my story, I lost my wife and kids to Aspartame, I was drinking gallons of diet pop (soda to you americans!) gallons of concentrated dilute to taste juice and eating masses of sweets, my eating became a habit and then an obsession, I was literally stealing money lying etc to buy more and more sweets chocolate etc. In the end my wife left me and I went to see a hypnotherapist. She was well versed in aspartame addiction and I stopped taking it, I found my hunger and cravings for sweet things diminished and 3 months later had lost nearly 4 stone in weight, I started cycling and I am now a category one racer! my life is back on track now thanks to cutting out aspartame, i believe it should be banned from sale, i have to watch now what i eat and drink very strictly because i dont want to become addicted again!

I hope there are people out there who can associate with my story and hopefully stop taking it and help to get it banned worldwide!

anon14789
Post 9

Very interesting.. best thing is to avoid it all together. Whether it harms or not it certainly doesn't do any benefit to a healthy human. I have read in some places that aspartame is in milk? however, the ingredients on the skim milk only say "reduced fat milk and milk solids" is there really aspartame in skim milk? seems silly haha i don't wanna stop drinking milk as well XD

Dayton
Post 8

I guess the easiest answer to that question is: maybe. Flavored waters, sweetened waters and the like *may* be sweetened with aspartame, but they'll say so on the package. On the other hand, I wouldn't assume that aspartame is in sparkling, but not sweetened, water. Reading the ingredients will give you the information you seek!

anon1722
Post 7

Does plain sparkling water contain aspartame?

anon1687
Post 6

Hey folks, you say this in the article:

"However, the medical communities of Europe and America have dismissed these studies, and as recently as 2005, testing supports the safety of aspartame."

Could you post a link to these "studies" because I can't find them?

Funny that you don't mentioned that the FDA refused to approve the drug all throughout the 1970's.

As for the "facts" on aspartame, you can read the latest EC-SCF studies.

Aspartame breaks down into methanol at 86 degrees Fahrenheit, which further breaks down into Formaldehyde. Constant, habitual, daily intakes will lead to deposits of formaldehyde in the brain, kidneys, and liver. Drinking diet soft drinks everyday is not a good idea.

The history of how this drug got approved is intriguing:

"For over eight years the FDA refused to approve it because of the seizures and brain tumors this drug produced in lab animals. The FDA continued to refuse to approve it until President Reagan took office (a friend of Searle) and fired the FDA Commissioner who wouldn't approve it. Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes was appointed as commissioner. Even then there was so much opposition to approval that a Board of Inquiry was set up. The Board said: "Do not approve aspartame". Dr. Hayes OVERRULED his own Board of Inquiry"

Dayton
Post 5

Hm. After a bit of research, the easiest explanation is that aspartame isn't "made of" anything, but is a compound unto itself. It has it's own chemical formula, and was synthesized in a lab.

To put it another way, if table salt is made of sodium and chlorine (NaCl), then aspartame is made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen.

willinger
Post 4

What is aspertame made of please?

anon1399
Post 3

Well,

I really don't think that if you drink a little bit of, let's say sparkling water, that this will make you get a disease otherwise all what you already consume will be like that. Of course, you must not exagerate, this what I do think. Personally, I do take a small amount of it(dietatician told to take a bit).

Regards

rachelh
Post 2

Hi, is aspartame okay in drinks to drink if pregnant or trying to become pregnant?

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