News 17.07.2023

WHO: Aspartame Possibly Carcinogenic

  • Transparency and food safety
Getty Images/ ajafoto

The World Health Organization's Cancer Research Agency (IARC) has classified the sweetener aspartame as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." What this means for consumers.

It's often found in soft drinks, yogurt, and chewing gum and is about 200 times sweeter than sugar: the artificial sweetener aspartame. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, has now assessed whether aspartame could generally cause cancer in humans. In principle, it divides substances into three categories: "possibly carcinogenic," "probably carcinogenic," and "carcinogenic." Aspartame was examined for the first time and ended up in the "possibly carcinogenic" category, which also includes 320 other substances.

WHO: Aspartame "Safe" Up to Current Daily Maximum

However, the IARC does not take into account how much a person would have to consume to have a risk of disease. The JECFA, a joint committee of the WHO and FAO, investigated this. It took the consumed amount into account in its risk assessment. The JECFA considers consumption within its current daily maximum recommendations to be harmless.

The acceptable intake per day (ADI) according to EFSA and WHO is 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. This amount can be taken a whole lifetime without concerns. To reach this value, a person weighing 70 kilograms would have to drink, for example, 9 to 14 cans of regular-sized diet drinks high in aspartame per day, WHO calculates. However, the amounts of sweetener vary depending on the beverage and manufacturer.

Anyone who now believes that Diet Coke is a healthy thirst quencher is mistaken. Even if aspartame poses no immediate health risk when consumed in normal quantities: The WHO classifies the substance as possibly carcinogenic and points out the insufficient study situation.
Manuel Wiemann Campaigner at foodwatch

Sweeteners do not help to loose weight

The WHO previously suggested that people should stop consuming non-sugar sweeteners, including aspartame, for weight loss. They simply do not help in controlling weight. Furthermore, a systematic review by the WHO suggests that non-sugar sweeteners could be linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, all-cause mortality, and increased body weight. The WHO includes non-sugar sweeteners in its recommendation.

According to WHO, the choice for consumers shouldn’t be about a soda with sugar or a soda with sweeteners. “There should be a third choice: it is water”, said Dr Branca from WHO. Especially children should not get used to a sweet taste.