Aspartame is one of many artificial sweeteners, though it is probably one of the most famous. Artificial sweeteners have been controversial since they were first discovered in 1870, when a chemist accidentally spilled a chemical compound on his hand and then licked his finger.

Examples illustrating the controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners include cyclamate, which has been banned in the US since the 1970s, but remains legal in Canada. Saccharin, on the other hand, is banned in Canada, but is legal in the US. It is interesting to note that cyclamate and saccharin were the first artificial sweeteners used in the 1950s, when diet soda was invented for diabetics.

The most recently discovered artificial sweetener, neotame, is essentially a descendent of aspartame. By chemically altering aspartame, scientists have derived a compound that is up to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar and has yet to exhibit adverse effects. Bear in mind, however, that it has only been on the market for eight years.

By creating an even sweeter artificial sweetener, scientists allow for smaller amounts of sweetener to be used, thus decreasing the risk of toxicity upon consumption. Nevertheless, this feeble attempt to appease our taste buds, while tricking our digestive system with compounds so foreign they’re not even recognized as being food, is not without its potential side effects.

Though artificial sweeteners are useful for weight loss, diabetics, and for preventing tooth decay, after a century of research studies continue to demonstrate commonly cited side effects, which include migraine headaches and carcinogenicity. Furthermore, artificial sweeteners are not an effective way to cut calories: research has shown that individuals who reduce energy intake via artificial sweeteners tend to compensate at later meals.

In addition to the artificial sweeteners that were invented in labs, sweeteners like sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol commonly found in chewing gum, diet foods, and even toothpaste, are unlike the host of previously mentioned sweeteners, because they occur naturally in fruits and vegetables. Nevertheless, they do not naturally occur in the concentrations in which they are found in their role as food additives. As a result, they have been noted for aggravating gastrointestinal conditions.

Artificial sweeteners are yet another too-good-to-be-true solution to our nation’s dietary dilemma. The moral of the story seems to be that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.