Which is Worse: Aspartame or High Fructose Corn Syrup?
Answering this question is no easy task since it may be a lot like asking “Which is worse: heart disease or nervous system disease?” Each product is associated with different possible connections with disease. Aspartame, what is found in NutraSweet®, is thought to possibly cause or promote nervous system disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, at least when consumed in fairly high amounts. The steady consumption of high fructose corn syrup, on the other hand, is said to possibly cause or promote diabetes, heart disease and damage to other organs such as the liver, pancreas and kidneys.
What if we had only a small amount of aspartame per week, such as one glass of diet soda and maybe a serving of sugar-free, fat-free pudding? But at the same time, we ate foods that contained high fructose corn syrup daily? Would that mean that we are more likely to suffer from the possible effects caused by thesyrup than we are from the possible effects of the aspartame? Studies suggest that may well be the case since the amount of both aspartame and high fructosecorn syrup consumed seem to be a factor in whether or not ill effects may occur. Therefore, if we instead avoid the high fructose corn syrup but consume over the recommended limit for aspartame per day — often said to be 3 cans of diet soda — then we would perhaps be at a high risk for nervous system damage.
One thing is for sure in the debate — neither aspartame nor high fructose cornsyrup is a natural product. High fructose corn syrup is derived from corn but is completely synthetic. Corn starch is boiled and distilled to create syrup with a very high fructose, or fruit sugar, content. The percentage of fructose in highfructose corn syrup varies between 45% and 85%! The problem is that our bodies are not made to digest this very high sugar concentration just as they are not made to digest the high concentration of ingredients in aspartame.
Aspartame is made up of 50% phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid and 10% methyl alcohol. Phenylalanine and aspartic acid are actually important amino acids that are found naturally in many foods, but again the percentages used in the man-made concoction known as aspartame is much too high for our bodies to consume naturally. Methyl alcohol is sometimes called wood alcohol and this type of alcohol can cause blindness as well as kidney and liver failure.
Methyl alcohol is thought to turn into formaldehyde in the body. Formaldehyde is a chemical used in embalming and is considered poisonous to the central nervous system. High levels of aspartic acid are said to damage the basal ganglia part of the brain and damage to the basal ganglia has been shown in many studies to be connected to the development of Parkinson’s disease. High levels of phenylalanine are said to cause a reduction in dopamine production in the brain and dopamine levels have also been found to play a role in diseases such as Parkinson’s.
We also have to address the fact that aspartame is usually found only in sugar-free versions of foods such as desserts and drinks, while high fructose corn syrupis found in a large range of packaged foods. High fructose corn syrup is commonly used in foods such as tomato sauce, cake mixes, cereals, breads and juice. Manufacturers use high fructose corn syrup rather than natural sugar as it is cheaper and has a much longer shelf life. Several studies have linked high fructose corn syrup to obesity, heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver. Since the choice of aspartame or high fructose corn syrup seems to be like choosing between a rock and a hard place, maybe the answer is to read labels and consume a very small amount, if any, of both ingredients.