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The Sweet Side Of Science

(NC)-Everybody's heard of aspartame. The list of products using it for sweetness is long, including breakfast cereals, soft drinks, desserts and yogurt. But what exactly is aspartame?

Aspartame is a tabletop sweetener that gives foods a sweet taste, but contains a negligible amount of calories and carbohydrate. Aspartame is not the only sugar substitute to have these properties. Sucralose is another sweetener like aspartame that is used in numerous food products. Based on its name, you might think it's sugar, but it's not! What is the difference between these two tabletop sweeteners? Basically, the difference is in their sweetening power. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than white sugar, while aspartame is 180 times sweeter.

Where does aspartame come from? It was actually discovered by coincidence in 1965 as a US scientist was researching a drug to treat ulcers. He was quite surprised to discover that the substance he was using in his work had an extremely sweet taste! The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wasted no time in commissioning a number of studies, which eventually led to them approving the use of aspartame for commercial purposes. The food industry quickly began using aspartame in manufacturing as a low-calorie sugar substitute to sweeten some food products. Canadians first began seeing aspartame used in foods after Health Canada authorized it over 20 years ago, in 1981, as a tabletop sweetener and food additive.

"Aspartame has probably been studied more than any other food additive," states Dr. Joe Schwarcz, Director of the McGill University Office for Chemistry and Society, and author of the book That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles, which devotes a full chapter to aspartame. "Over 70 million North Americans regularly consume products containing aspartame."

So don't be surprised by the number of food product ingredient panels that list this popular tabletop sweetener on grocery store shelves!

- News Canada

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