As more Americans avoid sugar, artificial sweeteners have filled the void in people’s beloved recipes, with more than 6,000 products containing aspartame.
The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm is expected to declare that aspartame is “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” according to a report by Reuters. This raises concerns about the safety of aspartame.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization has “assessed the potential carcinogenic effect of aspartame” and will disclose its findings on July 14, according to a representative of the organization who spoke with CBS MoneyWatch. They did not corroborate the Reuters report regarding the IARC’s conclusion regarding the safety of aspartame.
The IARC evaluates the potential carcinogenicity of substances, whereas another WHO body is responsible for recommending safe consumption levels.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved aspartame for use in food products, concluding that the additive is “safe for the general population.” Concerns have persisted, however, regarding the safety of aspartame, with one 2021 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients noting that “the results of its long-term use remain unclear.”
What exactly is aspartame?
Aspartame is a substance known as a methyl ester. In 1981, as a low-calorie sweetener, artificial sweetener, which is 200 times as potent as conventional granulated sugar, was introduced to the market. Included in the brand names are Nutrasweet, Equal, and Sugar Twin. According to data from the National Library of Medicine, it has become an important ingredient in foods and beverages across North America, Asia, and Europe since then.
Aspartame: Does it pose any health risks? What to know about the sugar substitute
Several studies indicate that aspartame has no effect on blood sugar or insulin levels, making it a popular sugar substitute for diabetics. Moreover, aspartame has been added to reduced-sugar and sugar-free treats, condiments, and beverages as a result of research linking excessive sugar consumption to various cancers.
Products containing aspartame
Here are some common beverages and foods containing aspartame:
- Sugar-free or diet beverages, such as Diet Coke;
- Sugar-free gums, such as Trident gum
Diet drink mixtures, such as Crystal Light
- Reduced-sugar condiments, including Log Cabin Sugar-Free Syrup,
Sugar-free gelatin, such as Sugar-Free Jell-O, and
- tabletop sweeteners, including Equal and Nutrasweet, are sold under brand names.
- Coca-Cola, the maker of Diet Coke, and other aspartame-containing product manufacturers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Certainly, the sweeteners used in low-sugar products vary, and companies occasionally alter their ingredient lists. For the most accurate information, consumers should examine the ingredient lists of specific products to determine whether or not they contain aspartame.
Is aspartame dangerous?
Multiple studies have concluded that aspartame is safe when consumed in moderation. However, some research has linked aspartame consumption to cancer. An observational study of more than 100,000 adults in France found that those who consumed greater quantities of artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame, had a marginally increased risk of developing cancer.
Some studies indicate that aspartame may also cause migraines, seizures, and depression.
However, both the FDA and the American Cancer Society continue to declare aspartame safe for human consumption.
IARC’s “misleading claims” lacked context, according to Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council, an international association representing the low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry.
“Consumers deserve facts, and the fact is that aspartame is safe and one of the most widely studied food ingredients, which is why the Calorie Control Council is gravely concerned about any unsubstantiated and misleading assertions that contradict decades of science and global regulatory approvals,” he said in a statement to CBS News.
According to the FDA’s permissible daily limit for artificial sweeteners, a 150-pound adult would have to consume more than 18 zero-sugar soda cans per day to experience severe adverse health effects from aspartame.