The World Health Organization (WHO) and its cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), have recently presented differing viewpoints regarding the safety of aspartame, an artificial sweetener commonly used in diet soda and various other food products. While the IARC categorized aspartame as a “possible” cause of cancer, an expert panel selected by the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization determined that it is safe for consumption in limited quantities.
Aspartame, which is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, is authorized as a food additive in Europe and the United States, and it is widely utilized in a range of food and beverage items, including diet soda, desserts, chewing gum, and medications. The FDA approved aspartame in 1974, setting an acceptable daily intake of 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. However, the U.N. experts established a slightly lower safe daily limit of 40 milligrams per kilogram.
The IARC’s classification of aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic” was based on studies that found “limited” evidence linking the sweetener to liver cancer in both humans and animals. In contrast, the expert panel assembled by the WHO and the food agency concluded that there is currently “no convincing evidence” to suggest that aspartame is dangerous when consumed at existing levels. As a result, they maintained their guidelines regarding acceptable levels of consumption.
Although the IARC’s classification has raised concerns, health authorities such as the FDA maintain that aspartame is safe for the general population when used within the established limits. Dr. Francesco Branca, WHO’s nutrition director, emphasized the importance of moderation rather than complete avoidance when it comes to consuming aspartame.
This evaluation of aspartame by the IARC follows its previous classification of processed meat as a cancer-causing substance. However, producers of food and beverages that contain aspartame argue that there is no reason for consumers to avoid such products, highlighting the consensus within the scientific and regulatory community regarding the sweetener’s safety.
Ultimately, individuals are advised to adhere to the established guidelines for consuming aspartame, and experts emphasize that excessive amounts of any substance can potentially be harmful. WHO recommends that food manufacturers reduce the use of sugar in their products, suggesting that relying on sweeteners may not be the ideal solution.