WHO Declares Aspartame a Possible Carcinogen

But keeps current intake guidelines the same
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 14, 2023 12:30 AM CDT
WHO Declares Aspartame a Possible Carcinogen
FILE - A bottle of soda is photographed in Washington Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.   (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

As expected, the World Health Organization on Thursday declared aspartame, one of the world's most most widely used artificial sweeteners, a possible carcinogen. But, in a possibly confusing addendum, it also kept the current intake guidelines the same. As the Guardian explains, two different WHO panels have been reviewing aspartame. It was the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which investigates whether evidence exists that a substance is possibly dangerous, that declared the sweetener possibly carcinogenic, which means there is limited evidence it may cause cancer. Meanwhile, the joint committee on Food Additives (JECFA) that is run by the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization, which investigates how much of a particular substance would be risky, did its own review and found no convincing evidence the currently acceptable intake levels cause harm—hence, the guidelines did not change.

Those intake guidelines are pretty high—about 74 sweetener packets containing aspartame (like Equal or NutraSweet) per day, or 9 to 14 cans of diet soda containing aspartame per day, USA Today reports. "Our results do not indicate that occasional consumption should pose a risk to most consumers," said the WHO's director of the department of nutrition and food safety. However, addressing the potential consumer confusion over the two panels' findings, he added: "If consumers are faced with the decision of whether to take cola with sweeteners or one with sugar, I think there should be a third option considered—which is to drink water instead." One reaction to the news, from the Washington Post's editorial board, advises people to not "freak out" about the findings, but also urged that more research should be done into the sweetener. (More aspartame stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.