Fooducate community member Skyler asks about a warning she saw on a pack of gum –

“Phenylketonurics – contains phenylalanine”

What is this? And what does it have to do with chewing gum? Or diet soda?

What you need to know:

1. Phenylalanine is an amino acid. Amino acids sounds scary, but they are actually the building blocks of protein.

2. Phenylalanine is actually an essential amino acid. This means the body cannot create any on its own, and thus must receive it as part of a diet, usually when consuming proteins.

3. So where can one find phenylalanine? In breast milk (for babies), and in most animal products (meat, dairy, eggs).

4. Oh, and in aspartame too. Yes, that cursed artificial sweetener breaks down into several components in our body, one of them being phenylalanine.

So what’s with the warning?

5. Turns out that one in 15,000 people in the world has a genetic disorder calledPhenylketonuria. Their body can’t metabolize synthesize phenylalanine. As it builds up in the body, it causes all sorts of bad things to happen, such as mental retardation, seizures, and other brain damage.

6. People suffering from Phenylketonuria (or PKU) are calledphenylketonurics. They need to constantly monitor their protein intake. They are also warned about consumption of products containing aspartame – hence the warning on labels – “Phenylketonurics – contains phenylalanine”.

7. If you don’t have PKU, you probably don’t need to worry about harmful health effects of phenylalanine. But that doesn’t mean that aspartame is healthy for you, or that diet drinks are a healthy choice. As for gum – choose those sweetened with Xylitol.

If anyone of our readers suffers from PKU, give us a shout and tell us of your experience making the right food choices.