Aspartame advice unchanged despite cancer question

Children are at most risk of exceeding the safe limits on aspartame, found in diet drinks. (Getty Images)

By James Gallagher

Advice on how much aspartame we can eat or drink is unchanged, despite the sweetener being classified as “possibly” causing cancer.

Two groups of experts at the World Health Organization have been reviewing thousands of scientific studies.

The “possibly carcinogenic” label often causes fear and confusion, but just means the evidence is unconvincing.

Most people consume less than the safe upper limits of aspartame, but the WHO recommends heavy consumers cut down.

Aspartame is found in diet and sugar-free versions of foods, as the chemical gives a taste 200 times sweeter than sugar for little calories.

Famous brands containing the sweetener include Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi Max and 7 Up Free, but aspartame is in around 6,000 products ranging from toothpaste and chewing gums to yoghurts and cough sweets.

Despite being so widespread, the chemical’s safety has been a source of controversy since it was introduced in the 1980s.

I asked Dr Francesco Branca, the director of the department of nutrition and food safety at the World Health Organisation (WHO), what was the healthier choice: sugar or sweetener?

He told me: “Faced with a decision of whether to take cola with sweeteners or one with sugar, I think there should be a third option, which is to drink water instead and to limit the consumption of sweetened products altogether.”

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