Kicking Aspartame, One Piece at a Time!

Some of you may have some awareness of aspartame thanks to Yoplait making a big deal of removing it from their Yoplait Light Yogurt starting in 2014, when they finally listened to consumers who wanted this neurotoxin out of their yogurt! (Although this was a step in the right direction, Yoplait unfortunately still chooses to use sucralose in their Light product, another artificial sweetener. Shame, Yoplait, shame.)

So, whether you may or may not be familiar, here’s a quick rundown. Aspartame is a man-made, artificial sweetener, common in a lot of reduced-calorie products, especially diet sodas. It goes under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal when found as table-top packet sweeteners. It’s got an ungodly chemical taste that I simply cannot believe I used to consume in my Yoplait ages ago, but some people claim to not taste it (sadly, they’re too used to it).

The horrific taste is the least of your concerns, which is why there has been quite a movement to get it out of consumer products. Aspartame has been connected to a wide range of consumer-reported ailments that have been submitted to the FDA, including:

  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Dizziness/Seizures/Muscle Spasms
  • Nausea
  • Numbness
  • Weight gain
  • Rashes
  • Depression/Fatigue/Irritability/Anxiety
  • Tachycardia/Palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Vision problems/Hearing loss/Tinnitus/Vertigo
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of taste
  • Memory loss
  • Joint pain

Worse yet, studies have suggested aspartame’s link as a contributing factor to triggering or worsening certain conditions, like Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, and MS. Wonder why? Aspartame is composed of three things, all of which are dangerous in our bodies: aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol (which metabolizes into formeldahyde). Here is a nice introductory article about the history and science of the way aspartame affects our bodies, especially our brains.

Yet the FDA once again shows its utter uselessness by continuing to allow aspartame’s use within “daily intake recommendation levels”, stating that the only people who should be concerned are ones with the rare hereditary disease Phenylketonuria (PKU). Okay, so the amount found in one serving of one product may be low, but what about when a person is consuming ten servings of products containing it throughout the course of the day? What about a child’s tiny body compared to an adult – surely the level safe for them is much less than an adult? The FDA claims over 100 studies that support its safety, but what about the pile of other studies that support its danger? Why did aspartame take 16 years to get FDA approval for use in dry goods and 18 years for carbonated beverage use, if it’s so safe? So many questions, very few answers.

Without a doubt, it’s a hotly-debated issue on the Internet, as there are plenty of consumers willing to stand up for aspartame’s safety and discredit scientific evidence that suggests otherwise. Some people even argue that they want the aspartame added back into products that have had it removed! I also found a laughable website that affirms its utter safety, and – shocker – guess who owns the website? The Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness. The Coca Cola Company! I’ll give you one guess which ingredient sweetens Diet Coke. I’m reminded of advice that one of my very wise college profs stressed on us: “Always think about who stands to profit.” It’s just like how the corn growers industry continues to insist that high fructose corn syrup is completely safe and not contributing to our nation’s obesity epidemic, despite damning evidence.

When I started paying close attention to chemicals, aspartame was one of the first to go, right along with high fructose corn syrup. However, I was totally taken by surprise to find out that aspartame is an extremely common ingredient in the majority of chewing gums on the market. Go on, check your gum right now. Is it in there? I bet it is.  This was a tough one for me, because I loved Eclipse. I know it sounds so silly, but I bet there are others who will understand! As consumers we get pretty brand-loyal, so it can feel hard to kiss a long-standing favorite goodbye.

Luckily, right as I was discovering how sketchy aspartame is, the brand Pur was just beginning to pop up on store shelves. I think I originally found it at Walgreens, if I’m not mistaken. If you can’t find it in a store, it’s available on Pur’s website in pack size and bag size (which is way more economical). Pur frequently runs promos on their site, including a 10% off offer when you sign up for emails.

Flavor-wise, they have six: Peppermint, Wintergreen, Spearmint, Coolmint, Cinnamon, and Pomegranate Mint. So it goes without saying that you don’t have to sacrifice flavor options to be free of aspartame! What’s even cooler is that Pur sells variety packages, so, for example, you can order a package that contains one pack each of all six flavors.

So we’ve got flavor options covered, but what about the overall experience? To be honest, there isn’t much difference between Pur and any other gum that contains aspartame. The flavor stays just as strong and long as other gums, but tastes better sans aspartame, in my opinion. It’s not that it’s not sweet, because it’s still sweetened to an extent, but it’s done with non-GMO xylitol (xylitol is a corn derivative). Texture is exactly what you’d expect from any other gum, and you still get that satisfying crunch when you first bite into a piece. So other than being aspartame-free, you don’t have to worry about sacrificing anything you’re used to in your typical gum experience! Once you’ve gone Pur, you won’t go back. I’m just as happy chewing Pur as I was with my Eclipse before, but happier because I know it’s safe. I’ve been chewing nothing but Pur for well over a year now, so I’d probably spit out anything else right away because I’d be able to taste the aspartame immediately. Yuck.

Wishing you healthier, happier chewing!

PS – Since this will be my last post for 2015, I also want to wish everyone a fantastic holiday and Happy New Year! Bring on 2016! Stay tuned, as I’ve got plenty coming your way starting in January…

 

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