29 June 2023, 14:29 | Updated: 29 June 2023, 14:44
Aspartame, a sweetener found in several popular soft drinks, may cause cancer, a bombshell new study is set to find.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is expected to say that aspartame could be carcinogenic to humans.
The research into aspartame was carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), with the full report expected on July 14.
The IARC is made up of experts who look at things that could increase the risk of cancer, using already available evidence – although they haven’t said how much aspartame people need to consume before they are in danger.
The group’s research has sometimes been controversial, after finding that night work and eating red meat were probably causes of cancer.
But what is the sweetener aspartame and what drinks is it in?
What is aspartame?
Aspartame is a sweetener that is about 180-200 times sweeter than sucrose, commonly known as table sugar. It is made up of three substances aspartic acid (40%), phenylalanine (50%) and methanol (10%).
Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by a researcher in the US who created it as an intermediate step for another product. He licked his finger, which had aspartame on it, discovering how sweet it was.
Aspartame has been used in food and drink since the 1980s, after it gained approval from the US Food and Drug administration. It was approved in several European countries in the 1980s, before gaining EU-wide approval in 1994.
The UK requires any products containing aspartame to bear a warning, because of the phenylalanine it contains, which is dangerous to people with phenylketonuria, a rare disease.
It is widely used in part because its extreme sweetness means much less aspartame has to be used than sugar – meaning the products containing it have fewer calories.
Many studies over decades have found aspartame to be safe to consume at the levels it is currently used at.
Several agencies that have tested aspartame for possible carcinogenic properties have found no link between the sweetener and cancer – so the WHO report would be a major departure.
What food and drinks contain aspartame?
Aspartame is used in about 6,000 popular food and drink products, as well as some medicines and laxatives.
Popular drinks include:
Oasis Summer Fruits
Oasis Citrus Punch
Ribena Really Light
Dr Pepper Zero
Food and other items include:
Wrigley’s Extra chewing gum
Orbit chewing gum
Airwaves chewing gum
Mentos Pure Fresh chewing gum
Are the new findings on Aspartame expected to be widely accepted?
The joint WHO’s Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) ruled in 1981 that aspartame is safe to consume when consumed within daily limits.
An adult weighing, on average, nine stone would have to drink up to 36 cans of a soft drink to risk overconsumption.
The JECFA is also expected to reveal its own review into aspartame on July 14.
The International Sweeteners Association (ISA), which includes Coca-Cola and Pepsico, have said they have “serious concerns” about customers being misled by the review, the Telegraph reports.
“IARC is not a food safety body and their review of aspartame is not scientifically comprehensive and is based heavily on widely discredited research,” secretary general of the ISA Frances Hunt-Wood said.
It comes after the WHO advised people last year not to use diet drinks to lose weight.
This prompted a backlash from industry leaders, who pointed out the lack of sugar in diet drinks.
LBC has contacted Coca-Cola for comment.