Is Aspartame Harmful to Our Health? This is What You Need to Know About The Recent Scrutiny

Including where aspartame is found, it’s history, and more.

By: Lexy Parsons

Let’s face it — there will always be controversial data and differing opinions when it comes to the healthiest foods and best dietary choices. And truthfully, this makes sense! We’re all different, with unique food preferences and dietary needs. This is why some thrive on a Keto diet while others feel like their healthiest selves when adopting a plant-based approach. With this in mind, it’s important to follow an eating style that suits you and your individual needs. However, remaining an informed and educated consumer is of equal importance, because science and research is ever-evolving. 

If you haven’t heard, there’s been recent controversy surrounding the use of aspartame, an artificial sugar substitute. Ahead, we’re sharing what you need to know about the latest research on this artificial sugar substitute and how to remain an educated consumer. 

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What is Aspartame?

Aspartame is a popular artificial sweetener (also known as a non-nutritive sweetener) designed to provide sweetness without the added calories. This low-calorie sweetener is approximately 200 times sweeter than table sugar, and is found in a variety of low-calorie and sugar-free products, such as diet sodas, and sugar-free gum, yogurt, and desserts.

The History of Aspartame

Aspartame was first discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter. Schlatter accidentally discovered the sweetness of aspartame, and since aspartame is nearly 200 times sweetener than table sugar with virtually zero caloric value, it was expected to help reduce obesity rates as well as those with diabetes. 

However, in 1970, the FDA banned the use of aspartame in the US “due to suspicions of causing cancer.” After initial hurdles were faced to have aspartame legalized as a food additive, aspartame then re-entered the market in 1981 at large-scale production, when it was marketed as NutraSweet. 

Despite the ongoing controversy surrounding the long-term use of aspartame, it continues to be a popular artificial sweetener used in North America, Europe, as well as Asia. 

Where is Aspartame Found?

Aspartame is commonly found in soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, sugar-free gums, desserts, candy, and even sugar-free cough drops. If you’re trying to avoid aspartame, be sure to pay close attention to food labels. 

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What’s All The Buzz About Aspartame?

Aspartame has been controversial for decades, but this artificial sweetener has recently been under scrutiny. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has been called to comment, where they have recently released a statement detailing the potential carcinogenic effects of aspartame. 

Here’s What We Know  

Both the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) conducted independent reviews on the health risks of aspartame. Based on their findings, a joint statement was released.

According to IARC, aspartame has been declared as possibly carcinogenic to humans (IARC Group 2B). However, the JECFA maintains that the risks associated with aspartame are primarily related to excessive consumption exceeding the acceptable daily intake. Consequently, the JECFA reaffirmed the acceptable daily intake of 40 mg/kg body weight.

The FDA also responded, and stated that “aspartame being labeled by IARC as possibly carcinogenic to humans does not mean that aspartame is actually linked to cancer.”

Making an Informed Choice That’s Best For You

There’s confusion, disagreements, and ultimately no clear conclusion or overall scientific consensus when it comes to the use of aspartame. That said, it’s important to remain aware of the potential risks and stay up to date on the latest research — for aspartame, and any food. Ultimately, it’s about making informed, and educated decisions based on your unique dietary and health needs. 

The Takeaway 

With new concerns related to aspartame, It’s important to stay informed so you can make the best choices about the foods you consume and your health. The good news is that you’re in charge of your food choices, so limiting ultra-processed foods as much as possible and choosing real, whole foods first is a great way to support your body with the foods it needs to thrive. And, if you have specific questions related to your unique dietary needs, it’s always a good idea to connect with a Registered Dietitian or your healthcare provider.