I have a confession to make: When I drink coffee, I sometimes add in a packet of Equal low-calorie sweetener. Yes, that would be aspartame. And guess what? My reason for using an occasional packet has absolutely nothing to do with some hidden desire to avoid carbs, spare calories, or even lose weight.
Quite frankly, I just prefer the subtle burst of “sugariness” offer by this particular sweetener.
But, only in my coffee.
Interestingly, as a health expert and lifestyle blogger, I’ve taste tested pretty much every sweetening agent that’s hit the market over the last 15 years. I’ve used everything from pure honey to maple syrup to Stevia in my coffee but Equal just continues to win the challenge.
It is what it is.
So, does this make me any less healthy?
Certainly, my packet of Equal doesn’t overshadow my daily servings of 6-9 veggies, 2-4 fruits, 2-3 lean protein sources, and 2-3 healthy fats. Nor does it overthrow my daily water intake of a gallon or so.
But, this article isn’t about my preferred method of sweetening my coffee, or even my normal patterns of eating. It’s really about my continued annoyance with the ongoing health scares surrounding aspartame in general.
During a banquet, some years back, I used a packet of Equal in my coffee to the surprise of the nearly dozen women with whom I shared a table. Funny enough, one of them tapped me on the shoulder and said: “You know better than that, it’s ‘aspartamale’ in that stuff and it causes cancer.”
All jokes aside, in spite of the fact that “aspartame” is one of the most thoroughly studied of all low-calorie sweeteners and has been found to be generally safe for consumption by over ninety countries worldwide, there still remains a great deal of hoopla surrounding the disease-causing effects of this particular sweetening agent.
Aspartame consumption has been subtly linked to a plethora of chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, yet none of these connections have been substantiated. In fact, a large majority of studies aimed at associating aspartame consumption with disease have been purely observational.
And then there’s the subject of aspartame and weight management, in light of the many claims suggesting that such low-calorie sweeteners can cause weight gain. Actually, weight gain is a primary result of long-term calorie imbalances resultant from a poor diet and/or a lack of physical activity.
Really, it is.
There are 3,500 calories in one pound of fat; therefore, if you consume an excess of 3,500 calories over a given period of time, a calorie surplus occurs and you’ll gain weight. Trust me on this. Twice in my life I’ve gained weight to the point of obesity and successfully lost it by reversing the equation.
So, where does aspartame fit into this equation?
Could it be that consuming low-calorie sweeteners leads to an over consumption of higher calorie foods that are of inferior nutritional quality? In other words, does the average aspartame consumer wash their double bacon cheeseburger and large order of fries down with a diet soda?
Well, this is definitely a great way to link low-calorie sweeteners to weight gain.
But, is it the low-calorie sweetener that’s causing weight gain? Or, is it the utter lack of self-control on the part of the person who devours the fatty foods?
At the end of the day, when combined with a sensible, well-balanced diet, regular physical activity, and other healthy lifestyle behaviors, using low-calorie sweeteners won’t hinder your efforts towards managing your weight.
Nor will doing so lead to onset of diseases.
In fact, a large majority of individuals who consume low-calorie sweeteners are actually in the best of health and in great shape.
Check out the interesting infographic on the next page which was presented at the International Union of Nutritional Science (IUNS) 20th International Congress of Nutrition in Granada, Spain. This infographic specifically highlights key attributes of the average consumer of low-calorie sweeteners.
What you see might very well surprise you!
Let me be crystal clear. I’m not promoting the use of aspartame or any other low-calorie sweeteners for weight loss or any added health benefits. I’m simply saying that if you choose to use a packet or two of Equal or NutraSweet to enhance the flavor of your coffee, tea, or other favorite beverages, that’s perfectly fine.
Now, if you choose to prepare pitchers of Kool-Aid with whole boxes of aspartame or even live off boatloads of diet soda, those are your own blunders as such habits far exceed that of moderation.