US health officials have rejected claims that a popular artificial sweetener used in soft drinks, chewing gum and low-calorie foods causes cancer.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it “disagrees” with the World Health Organization (WHO) that aspartame may be carcinogenic to humans.
The FDA said the studies cited in the WHO ruling had “significant deficiencies” and noted that its own review in 2021 reached the opposite conclusion.
US regulators also urged customers not to switch from artificially sweetened snacks to sugary ones based on the latest development. Sugar is known to cause a host of health consequences, from diabetes to heart disease.
The charts above show which of America’s favorite snack foods contain the sweetener aspartame.
One of the most famous products that uses the sweetener is Diet Coke. Today, aspartame was labeled a “possible carcinogen,” but it is only likely to put people at risk when consumed in excess, or more than 14 cans of Diet Coke per day.
In a statement released today, the FDA said: ‘The FDA disagrees with the conclusion that these studies support the classification of aspartame as a possible human carcinogen.
FDA scientists reviewed the scientific information included in the review in 2021 when it first became available and identified significant deficiencies in the studies in which [the conclusion] trusted
“We note that the WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives did not raise concerns about the safety of aspartame at current levels of use and did not change the acceptable daily intake.”
Aspartame is one of the most studied food additives in the world and is approved for use in many countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and the entire European Union.
It’s been around since 1981 and has experienced a renaissance in recent years as brands turned to artificial sweeteners amid a crackdown on sugar.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published an updated ruling on aspartame today, concluding that it is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
But only people who consume excessive amounts face a higher risk of contracting the disease, they said.
Current safe limits are set at 40 mg per kilogram of body weight per day.
That means a 154 lb (70 kg) adult would need to consume 14 cans of a diet soft drink that contains 200 mg of aspartame per can, such as Diet Coke, to exceed this limit.
And a 20 kg (44 lb) child could theoretically consume two to three a day without aspartame posing a risk, the WHO said. The UN health agency noted, however, that this was not “good practice”.
The ruling means that aspartame is now considered as dangerous as substances such as aloe vera extract, metallic lead and various dyes because of the cancer risk.
For comparison, red meat has been declared a ‘probable carcinogen’, one level above the status of aspartame.
The WHO confirmed yesterday at a press conference that it was “definitely” not asking producers or authorities to remove products containing aspartame from the shelves.
But the agency urged manufacturers to consider reformulating the products because sweeteners “are not the way to go.”
Recommendations from the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the Food and Agriculture Organization and WHO, a separate agency from WHO, were also released today.
He said that despite the reclassification, it was not changing the guidance on how much was safe to consume.
IARC rated the risk as 2B, meaning it is limited by unconvincing evidence, placing it in the same category as gasoline engine exhaust, lead, and the occupational hazard of being a hairdresser, with workers regularly exposed to products. chemicals.
In a briefing yesterday, Dr Francesco Branca, WHO director of Nutrition and Food Safety, said the WHO’s “quite large” acceptable daily limit means there is no problem in consuming that amount of aspartame “without having side effects.” appreciable in health”.
Many of the most beloved brands have blended aspartame, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar, into everything from yogurt to soft drinks and low-calorie meals.
Some, like PepsiCo, previously removed the sweetener amid reports of cancer risks. But then they were forced to add it back amid falling sales.
Concerns about whether or not aspartame causes cancer stem from studies on lab rats published by a group of Italian researchers in the late 2000s, which found a higher rate of blood cancers among people exposed to the sweetener.
But studies in humans have been less conclusive, with only a few detecting a link to cancers such as liver cancer.
Animal research also has serious limitations, including that rodents were exposed to much higher concentrations of aspartame than humans.
Scientists warn that aspartame can cause cancer because when it breaks down in the body it can form formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
This can interfere with the DNA in cells and cause some to become cancerous and start dividing uncontrollably.
But the amounts of formaldehyde produced are normally very small, the scientists say, while natural processes in the body are also known to produce this.
Many experts say that sugar, which was made to replace aspartame, remains a much higher risk for people.
Dr Deidre Tobias, a nutritionist at Harvard University in Massachusetts, told DailyMail.com last month: ‘Suddenly something that’s natural, like sugar, feels healthier. But the evidence for that is misleading.
She continued: ‘There isn’t a huge body of evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners or anyone else, in particular, would be a significant cause for concern about health risks.
“If anything, it seems that for those people who regularly drink a lot of sugary drinks, for example, and would like to quit smoking, having an alternative to switching to artificially sweetened drinks, temporarily… may even be of benefit in those cases.” .’
Highlighting the risks of sugar, he cautioned: “I think the evidence to support added sugars in our diets as something we need to reduce is pretty strong.”
“We see that in short-term, tightly controlled trials, as well as long-term studies that can look at health events and outcomes, added sugar is consistently associated with poorer metabolic health.”
David Sinclair, a professor of genetics at Harvard and an expert on longevity, added: “Sugar is worse.”