The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says aspartame, one of the most common artificial sweeteners, is a possible carcinogen.
The announcement, made on Thursday, came after reports of an imminent declaration had begun circulating.
To arrive at the determination, the IARC, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) cancer research arm, conducted an evaluation of the impact of aspartame — based on scientific data collected from a range of sources, including peer-reviewed papers, governmental reports and studies conducted for regulatory purposes.
In a separate assessment, the joint WHO and Food and Agriculture Organisation’s expert committee on food additives (JECFA) said aspartame remains safe to consume at already-agreed levels of 40mg/kg of body weight.
Even though aspartame is largely associated with Diet Coke, there are many popular drinks that contain the sweetener.
WHAT IS ASPARTAME?
Aspartame is an odourless white powder discovered in 1965 by James Schlatter, a US chemist.
It is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar which means only a very small amount is needed to sweeten foods and beverages. Because it is only required in small quantities, it is used as a substitute for sugar in soft drinks.
The ingredient is approved for use in Nigeria as a non-nutritive sweetener with an acceptable daily intake of 40mg/kg of body weight.
The low-calorie sugar substitute is also approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency, and many other countries.
While aspartame has been used for decades, there have been several controversies around the ingredient. For instance, a 2017 review of studies found evidence that suggested those who regularly consume sweeteners, including aspartame, might be at greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
DRINKS THAT CONTAIN ASPARTAME
* Diet Coke
* Coca-Cola Zero Sugar
* Sprite Zero Sugar
* Fanta Orange – Zero Sugar
* Schweppes Ginger
* Schweppes Pineapple with Malt Extract
* Schweppes Bitter Lemon
* Red Bull Sugar-Free
* Pepsi Max
* Fanta Zero
* 7Up Zero Sugar
* 7Up free
Past rulings made by the IARC on other substances had raised concerns among consumers, leading to lawsuits, and forcing manufacturers to recreate recipes and shift to alternatives.
The WHO said it will continue to monitor new evidence and encourage independent research groups to develop further studies on the potential association between aspartame exposure and consumer health effects.