When you drop that pill into your coffee or tea to sweeten it, you hardly wonder about its effect.
Aspartame, an artificial food sweetener, is the most commonly used substitute for sugar. It is used in the manufacture of soft drinks too. However, diabetologists refuse to recommend it for pregnant women or children.
Aspartame, which was synthesised nearly 50 years ago, is the most popular among the various artificial sweeteners. But some countries have banned it completely as the sweetener, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar, has repeatedly got entangled in medical controversies.
Some years ago, the use of aspartame in low-calorie soft drinks was blamed for causing cancers and premature births. According to the American Cancer Society website, however, studies on aspartame have not established any link to cancer.
Aspartame is used in India but diabetologists prefer sucralose, which they say is a natural product.
“Aspertame cannot be added to hot substances or while cooking as the chemical compound breaks down. We recommend sucralose, a natural product, for cooking purposes,” says diabetologist Anand Moses.
In December, the European Food Safety Authority, after an extensive study, said it was okay to use the sweetener at its current levels — 40mg/kg of body weight/day — points out Vijay Viswanath, managing director, M.V. Hospital for Diabetes, Royapuram.
Pregnant women and children, however, have no choice. They are allowed to have only sugar and not artificial sweeteners.
Doctors recommend half a teaspoon of sugar for children with diabetes and for adults whose sugar is “well-controlled and are not obese”, the recommended sugar level is 5 gm/day.