The World Health Organization (WHO) has released two conflicting reports regarding the cancer risk associated with the artificial sweetener aspartame (found in diet soda).
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the WHO, deemed aspartame a “possible” cause of cancer, while another expert panel selected by the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization maintained that the sugar substitute is safe in limited quantities. The divergent conclusions have raised questions about the sweetener’s safety.
- The WHO’s cancer agency, based in Lyon, France, periodically evaluates potential cancer hazards. Aspartame now joins a list of over 300 other possible cancer-causing agents.
- The WHO’s guidance remains unchanged, with no recommendation to completely stop consuming aspartame. Instead, moderation is advised.
- Aspartame, approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, is authorized as a food additive and widely used in various food and beverage products worldwide, including diet soda and desserts.
- The U.N. experts have established different acceptable daily intake limits for aspartame: 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and 40 milligrams per kilogram established by the U.N. in 1981.
- The WHO’s cancer agency based its “possible” carcinogenic classification on studies indicating limited evidence linking aspartame to liver cancer in humans and animals.
- The separate evaluation by the expert panel found “no convincing evidence” that aspartame is dangerous at current consumption levels and did not alter existing guidelines on acceptable levels of consumption.
Implications and Recommendations
- Consumers need not be overly concerned as long as they adhere to the established guidelines for aspartame consumption.
- The FDA continues to assert that aspartame is safe when used within limits.
- The WHO suggests that individuals who consume high amounts of aspartame may consider reducing their intake, but the sweetener is generally regarded as safe.
- Some nutrition experts recommend choosing water or unsweetened beverages as the healthiest options.
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