Just last month, the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research of Cancer announced that they’d both be researching the link between aspartame and cancer, as reported by the Deseret News.

Aspartame — commonly found in diet sodas — has been studied and researched for years. According to the Food and Drug Administration, “Aspartame is one of the most studied food additives in the human food supply.”

What is aspartame?

According to Science Direct, aspartame is a “is a dipeptide that is used as an artificial sweetener” — “meaning it is composed of two amino acids (aspartic acid and phenylalanine) joined together by a peptide bond,” per CBS News.

Aspartame has a place among other artificial sweeteners, but unlike the rest (which are “excreted from the body nearly unchanged,” per CBS News), it’s metabolized by the body. It has roughly four calories per gram.

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Does the artificial sweetener aspartame cause cancer?

Does aspartame cause cancer?

According to WHO, “IARC classified aspartame as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) on the basis of limited evidence for cancer in humans (specifically, for hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a type of liver cancer).” 

“JECFA concluded that the data evaluated indicated no sufficient reason to change the previously established acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 0–40 mg/kg body weight for aspartame,” WHO continued.

The FDA disagrees with WHO’s and IARC’s findings.

“The FDA disagrees with IARC’s conclusion that these studies support classifying aspartame as a possible carcinogen to humans,” per the FDA. “FDA scientists reviewed the scientific information included in IARC’s review in 2021 when it was first made available and identified significant shortcomings in the studies on which IARC relied.”

The FDA continues, “Scientific evidence has continued to support the FDA’s conclusion that aspartame is safe for the general population when made under good manufacturing practices and used under the approved conditions of use.”

While there have been multiple studies that potentially link aspartame to cancer, “Some experts caution that these recent aspartame studies have significant flaws,” per The Washington Post.

In a statement, Dr. Francesco Branca, director of the WHO Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, said, “The assessments of aspartame have indicated that, while safety is not a major concern at the doses which are commonly used, potential effects have been described that need to be investigated by more and better studies.”

What common foods contain aspartame?

Aspartame is often found in diet or sugar-free foods and drinks, but can also be found in full-sugar foods — for example, it’s found in Publix bakery’s frosted yellow cake and ice cream sandwiches, according to The Washington Post.

Here are some more foods and drinks that have aspartame, per CBS News and NBC News:

  • Sugar-free gum.
  • Sugar-free gelatin.
  • Diet drinks (such as Crystal Light).
  • Sugar-free syrups.
  • Tabletop sweeteners.

How do I know if aspartame is in my food?

As mentioned before, if you’re consuming a diet or sugar-free food or drink, it likely has aspartame. According to the FDA, “Consumers can identify whether a product has a sweetener by looking for the sweetener’s name in the ingredient list on the product label.”