Side Effects of Sugar Free JELL-O

Tasty jelly cubes in bowls on table on light background
Sugar-free Jell-O products contain aspartame, which causes side effects. (Image: serezniy/iStock/Getty Images)

Sugar-free Jell-O contains the artificial sweetener aspartame, commercially marketed as NutraSweet or Equal. Many health advocates have questioned the safety of aspartame, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Though the FDA approved aspartame for safe use in food as a sweetener and flavor enhancer, scrutiny of aspartame continues because of its side effects. So, before you serve your famous Jell-O mold at your next family function, brush up on the side effects of aspartame.

Cardiovascular Effects

Side effects linking aspartame to cardiovascular problems include tachycardia -- an increased heart rate at rest or during sleep. A healthy adult heart beats about 60 to 100 times per minute. A heart with tachycardia must work much harder to distribute blood, placing the body and the myocardium, or thickest part of the heart muscle, under greater oxygen demand. When the heart does not meet its own oxygen demand, myocardial cells begin to die off, which could lead to a myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack.

Brain Effects

According to Janet Star Hull, creator of the Aspartame Detox Program, aspartame inhibits the production of serotonin, which in turn inhibits the formation of melatonin. Melatonin regulates the body’s sleep and wake cycles, so without it, you may experience insomnia. Depressed individuals often exhibit low serotonin levels, as do some hyperactive children. Eating a healthy diet provides you with adequate levels of serotonin and melatonin, but those who regularly consume foods with aspartame, such as sugar-free Jell-O, may experience insomnia, depression and mood swings.

Gastrointestinal and Reproductive Side Effects

According to the Aspartame Information Center, more than 100 countries approved use of aspartame, and more than 6,000 foods or ingredients contain the sweetener. Despite its history of causing gastrointestinal upset, more than 200 scientific investigations have declared aspartame safe. Users of this artificial sweetener have reported bloating, edema, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, excessive thirst and hunger, diarrhea, burning urination, menstrual and sexual disorders.

Dessert and Snack Alternatives

If you enjoy this long-standing favorite as a desert or snack, prepare a box of regular Jell-O and only serve the recommended portions found on the nutrition label. Afterward, enjoy a relaxing walk or jog. If you limit your sugar intake but don’t want to expose yourself to aspartame, consider other alternatives, such as 1 cup of sliced of strawberries topped with regular Cool Whip; it only has 1 gram of sugar. If you crave ice cream, spread 2 tablespoons of regular Cool Whip on half of a graham cracker and top with the other half. Freeze it for one hour, and you will have “homemade” ice cream sandwiches.

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