Diet Pepsi recently announced that it would be removing the aspartame from its formula and replacing it with sucralose. As a connoisseur of both artificial sweeteners among many others, I reject this notion. Aspartame is great. I love aspartame.
Diet Pepsi capitulated to the current demand for “artisanal” soda—after sugar-only “Mexican Coke” became a marquee menu item for upscale restaurants, soda companies seemed to forget the reason they replaced sugar with artificial sweeteners in the first place, which is that too much sugar is bad for you.
Moreso, though, Diet Pepsi capitulated to America’s long-held notion that aspartame is even worse for you than sugar. Yet the substance falls in the category of those arbitrary beliefs that many crusade behind, but who do not possess enough scientific evidence to be reasonable. It is supported by research that, say, cigarettes are a known cause of cancer. Aspartame, though, has not been proven to be harmful, despite many Americans’ perception otherwise. And despite a preponderance of conflicting information on the internet, the New York Times has just reported that artificial sweeteners are, in fact, better for you than sugar, and that the link to cancer in humans has never been proven.
A 1998 randomized controlled trial could detect no neuropsychologic, neurophysiologic or behavioral effects caused by aspartame. Even a dose at 10 times the normal consumption had no effect on children with attention deficit disorder. A safety review from 2007, published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, found that aspartame had been studied extensively and that the evidence showed that it was safe.
It is true that people with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder, need to limit their consumption of aspartame, since phenylalanine is one of its components. But for most people, aspartame isn’t a concern, even outside of cancer. It’s also true that some of the sugar alcohol sweeteners, like in Stevia, can have a laxative effect or cause bloating when eaten in large amounts by some people. In normal use by most people, though, all of the approved artificial sweeteners are safe.
Though Dr.-Professor Carroll says the approved artificial sweeteners are safe, I am here with my refined palate to supplement his argument by telling you which of them taste great. And there is no better tasting artificial sweetener than aspartame. This is indisputable.
Aspartame’s top notes: aspirin, thin strands of cotton, soft and sweet plastic, chemical rugburn, bitter foliage, the sole of a box-fresh Nike Air Jordan.
Aspartame’s heart notes: diet corn syrup, guilt-free pleasure, a tongue massage.
Aspartame’s base notes: the pure taste of power... WITHOUT THE CALORIES.
It is not acquired; it tastes awesome from first the first moments in the mouth. Compare this to alcohol sweeteners like maltitol, which is often added to sugar-free candy and low-carb protein bars. As Dr.-Professor Carroll notes of its laxative effects, if you consume too much of it and other sugar alcohols, you are essentially guaranteed to contract diarrhea; I know because one single time I purchased and consumed an entire normal-sized bag of sugar-free Twizzlers, containing maltitol, and after a short period of stomach cramping my dalliance with low-carb candy ended in a particularly combative confession with the porcelain priest, after which I vowed never again. Where is the fun in that?
But with aspartame, unless you are a rat already prone to bladder cancer, the aftereffects are negligible, other than the feeling of satisfaction having consumed a beverage (or otherwise) that did not affect your blood sugar, that did not fill your body with empty calories, that did not render you with a risible high only to set you up for a harrowing crash.
Monster Energy Drink does not contain aspartame, and therefore I reject it.
If you think aspartame sucks, you are wrong; University of Illinois researchers chalked up your disdain to “mouth feel” which, if you’ve ever seen Chopped, matters, but is not everything. (Presentation is everything.)
Consumers may claim they don’t like diet soda because of artificial sweeteners, but Schmidt and sensory scientist Lee think people are also influenced by a subtle difference called “mouth-feel.” Think body, fullness, thickness; regular soda contains high-fructose corn syrup, diet soda doesn’t.
What makes these scientists think mouth-feel is the culprit? For one thing, artificial sweeteners have been greatly improved and extensively studied. “Taste profiles for artificial sweeteners now closely match the one for sucrose, which humans describe as the perfect sweetness,” Lee said.
See? You’re tripping.
Granted, aspartame, being the initial pet project of demonic “agriculture” company Monsanto and pushed through by Donald Rumsfeld calling in special faves with then-President Reagan, is perhaps objectionable in philosophy. Monsanto’s website has a segment called “Products of the Former Monsanto,” which lists aspartame alongside PCBs and Agent Orange. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Currently, NutriSweet is owned by the private equity firm JW Childs, while Equal is owned by Merisant, a company specializing in artificial sweeteners. Merisant is privately held by MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings, Inc, which is owned by accused racist Ronald Perelman. Everyone involved is, there is no doubt in my mind, totally evil.
Ron Perelman with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) in 2007. Behind them is a person who could, possibly, be drinking something sweetened with aspartame.
But aspartame is not objectionable in taste. Over the years, as its vaguely chemical, acidic, plasticky-sweet undertones have grown familiar on my palate, I have vehemently loved it, in a varying number of diet sodas and energy drinks, so that it is part of the fabric of my existence. Beverage companies of the world, do not take this away from me.
Drink water, also!
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Minaj/Meek image via screenshot. Ron Pereleman image via Getty.