Does artificial sweetener aspartame really cause cancer? What the WHO listing means for your diet soft drink habit


Evangeline Mantzioris, University of South Australia

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has declared aspartame may be a possible carcinogenic hazard to humans.

Another branch of the WHO, the Joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organization’s Expert Committee on Food Additives has assessed the risk and developed recommendations on how much aspartame is safe to consume. They have recommended the acceptable daily intake be 0 to 40mg per kilo of body weight, as we currently have in Australia.

A hazard is different to a risk. The hazard rating means it’s an agent that is capable of causing cancer; a risk measures the likelihood it could cause cancer.

So what does this hazard assessment mean for you?

Firstly, what is aspartame?

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is 200 times sweeter than sugar, but without any kilojoules.

It’s used in a variety of products including carbonated drinks such as Coke Zero, Diet Coke, Pepsi Max and some home brand offerings. You can identify aspartame in drinks and foods by looking for additive number 951.

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