Aspartame is a low-calorie artificial sweetener that is used in thousands of foods. Approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose, the function of aspartame in foods is to mimic the taste of sugar while lowering the calorie count. The sugar substitute is popular due to its similarity in taste to sugar, its ability to intensify fruit flavors, and the role it plays in weight control.
The main reason to replace sugar with an artificial sweetener is to lessen the calorie count of a food without compromising the sweet taste. One example of the effectiveness of using aspartame in foods for this reason can be seen in a can of standard soda, which contains about 150 calories, while a can of diet soda contains only one or two. The weight loss industry is based around the myriad low-calorie foods that mean dieters can have their cake and eat it too. The need or desire for sweet foods is a biological one, and by satisfying that need with a low-calorie sweetener, the associated risk of obesity is reduced.
Diabetics are also able to continue eating sweet foods by replacing sugar with substitutes like aspartame, as they are not supposed to affect blood sugar levels. However, there are reservations as to whether artificial sweeteners do more harm than good in this case. When something sweet is consumed, the body prepares for the ingestion of sugar by releasing insulin. No sugar is ingested, however, and too much insulin may lead to hypoglycemia.
Further functions of aspartame in foods are its ability to intensify and extend fruit flavors and the fact that it does not contribute to tooth decay. As the sweetener is not based on sugar but on amino acids, the bacteria in the mouth are unable to convert aspartame into cavity-forming acids. As for its flavor improving property, it has been found to affect fruit flavors in particular in that it extends the taste in the mouth.
Aspartame was developed 25 years ago and in that time there have been more than 200 studies that have confirmed the safety of its use. There have been and still are detractors who maintain that the multimillion diet and pharmaceutical industries are behind the positive studies and so the use of artificial sweeteners remains controversial. The industry has responded with the claim that the effect on the body of aspartame in foods has been tested and reviewed by independent bodies and still deemed safe.