Cutting out Aspartame

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist, or a nutritionalist, or a chemist, or a pharmacist, or any kind of health care professional. So in this context, it’s safe to say that I do not know what I’m talking about.

I’ve been dieting for two months now with great results. Alas, yesterday at my weekly weigh-in I gained half a pound, but considering a lack of activity all weekend I wasn’t too surprised. A bit disappointed, but as I keep having to remind myself – losing weight takes effort. When I look in the mirror I can see huge changes – there’s still a way to go, but I look and feel more and more like me.

Yet while I’m feeling fittier and happier, I’m not sleeping well, and I’m having some killer headaches. I don’t know which came first, but now I seem caught in a vicious circle of causality – I can’t sleep because I have a headache, and then I’m sleep deprived so my head aches. And so on and so on until I lose my mind. Yesterday my headache became a full-on migraine and James and I decided to investigate the cause. One possibility I’m currently investigating is my increased intake in aspartame.

Image: Aspartame structure by Yikrazuul via Wikimedia Commons

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in many ‘no added sugar’ or ‘diet’ foods and drinks. Although when metabolized aspartame does produce calories, because it is about 200 times sweetener than sucrose, it only requires teeny tiny amounts to produce a sweet taste. Aspartame tastes different to sugar and the sweetness lasts longer, but it can be blended with other artificial sweeteners to imitate the real taste of sugar more closely.

Because of this effectiveness to simulate sugar, aspartame is widely used – after a quick hunt in my kitchen I discovered it listed as an ingredient in Diet Coke and 7Up Free, all the ‘no added sugar’ squashes in my kitchen, in ‘sugar free’ gum, Weight Watchers chocolate bars and Hartley’s ‘sugar free’ jelly mix. Aside from the squashes, these things are all new to my diet since I started Weight Watchers two months ago. Before I’d have gone with more calorific aspartame-free options.

Unfortunately aspartame has been the focus of many hoaxes and conspiracy theories. I don’t believe them all. But I do know that my mum suffers from migraines when she drinks more diet drinks than usual, and a friend from back home gets bad headaches which she blames on aspartame. I’m not pointing any fingers just yet, but it’s made me cautious and careful. For now I am cutting way back on unnecessary aspartame and cutting out caffeine, which will hugely affect what I drink in particular. I’m swapping tea for green tea with lemon, and diet fizzy drinks for water.

Hopefully all of this will help with my self-appointed task for today’s list for 30 Days of Lists: Reasons to start… sleeping more.

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