The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified aspartame as a “possible” cause of cancer.
The cancer agency of the World Health Organization has qualified aspartame -sweetener present in soft drinks Light and many other foods – of a “possible” cause of cancer, while another group of experts looking at the same evidence continues to consider the sugar substitute safe in limited amounts.
The different results of the long-awaited revisions were made public last Friday. One of them came from the International Center for Research on Cancer (CIIC), responsible for evaluating the carcinogenic potential of substances. The other, from a group of experts selected by the WHO and another UN group, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Aspartame joins a category with more than 300 other “possible” carcinogens, including substances like the aloe vera extract, the Asian-style pickled vegetables and the woodwork.
most dangerous categories
IARC has two more serious classifications: “probably carcinogenic to humans” and “carcinogenic to humans.”
Both smoking tobacco and eating processed meat are classified as “carcinogenic to humans.” Acetaldehyde -from the consumption of alcoholic beverages- is classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
The measure of classifying aspartame follows a WHO warning in May of this year, according to which artificial sweeteners do not help with weight loss and, in fact, can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and death.
Last year, a large study in France pointed to a possible link between artificial sweeteners and an increased risk of cancer. National health organizations such as the Canadian have long warned that sugar substitutes without calories or low in calories They are not necessary or useful.
However, last May, the WHO stressed that the warning was “conditional” due to the diversity of participants in the studies that served as the basis for its conclusions, as well as the very complex consumption habits of sugar-free sweeteners.
Reaction to the possible risks of aspartame
IARC’s safety review bolsters evidence that has historically been controversial.
“CIIC is not a food safety body,” said Frances Hunt-Wood, secretary general of the International Sweetener Association, in a release in which he anticipated the revision.
“Aspartame is one of the most researched ingredients in history, with more than 90 food safety agencies worldwide declaring it safe, including the European Food Safety Authority, which conducted the more comprehensive security assessment of aspartame to date”.
The body, whose members include Mars Wrigley – the world’s leading maker of chocolate, chewing gum, mints and fruity candies – and Coca-Cola, manifested that had “serious doubts about the revision of the IARC, that may mislead consumers.
Aspartame has been approved for use by regulatory authorities in many countries, including the United States, the European Union, and Canada, who have concluded that it is safe to consume within acceptable daily intake limits.
WHO guidance does not change
According to Francesco Branca, director of nutrition of the WHO, the guidelines on the use of this sweetener have not changed.
“We’re not advising consumers to stop using it completely,” he notes, “we’re just advising moderation.”
UN experts evaluated the safety of aspartame in 1981 and set the safe daily limit at 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram.
David Spiegelhalter, Emeritus Professor of Statistics at Cambridge University, told the Associated Press that these guidelines mean that “normal people can safely drink up to 14 cans of diet drink a day…and even this acceptable daily limit has a large built-in safety factor”.
Is it better to consume sugar?
Experts have been quick to point out that aspartame’s link to cancer does not make sugar a preferable alternative. For example, excessive sugar consumption can also contribute to obesitywhich is a major risk factor for cancer.
In May, World Health Organization guidelines advising against the use of non-sugar sweeteners for weight control raised concerns among medical professionals.
Tom Sanders, Emeritus Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London, criticized the guidelines for failing to take “the real world situation” into account, especially in the field of dietetics.
“Sometimes what you’re trying to do is get people to control their weight, that is, reduce their calorie intake, and if you’re drinking a sugary drink, it may help to switch to a low-calorie or no-calorie drink,” he explained. to Euronews Next.
Sanders stresses that “substances that have convincing evidence should be avoided – for example, processed meat– or probable of cancer – for example, red meat – “. But those that are in the “category of possible” are probably “not worth worrying about” since the evidence is limited.
“Generally, action is only necessary when the evidence is compelling,” he added.
Almost any substance can be dangerous in excessive amounts, maintains David Klurfeld, a nutrition expert at the Indiana University-Bloomington School of Public Health.
“Even essential nutrients like vitamin A, iron, and water can kill in a matter of hours if consumed in excess.”
What European products contain aspartame?
Aspartame has been widely used since the 1980s; the compound is present in more than six thousand products worldwide.
In the European Union and the United Kingdom, aspartame can be found on product labels or, alternatively, its E number, E-951.
Why is it so present in food? This artificial sweetener is approximately two hundred times sweeter than common sugar.
Due to its intensity, only a small amount is needed to achieve the desired level of sweetness in foods and beverages. The result is fewer calories compared to sugar.
What products are you most likely to find it used in in Europe?
Aspartame is primarily available in the form of tabletop sweeteners, such as Canderel, Equal, and Hermesetas, which are commonly used as sugar alternatives in hot beverages such as coffee and tea.
diet soft drinks
Many popular soda brands offer diet versions of their drinks, such as Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi Max, Sprite Zero, and Fanta Zero, which use aspartame for sweetness without the added calories of sugar.
Sugar-free gum, candies and mints
Gum brands such as Extra, Orbit, Trident, Hollywood, Mentos, Freedent, and Airwaves, sugar-free alternatives, use aspartame as a primary or one of the primary sweeteners.
Low-calorie yogurts and desserts
Some yogurt brands, such as Yoplait and Müller Light, produce low-calorie varieties that incorporate aspartame as a sweetener.
Similarly, some sugar-free or reduced-sugar desserts, such as mousse, pudding and gelatin, may also contain aspartame.