Which products contain aspartame? Here is a list of popular foods, beverages with sweeteners.

WHO questions the safety of aspartame

As more Americans shy away from sugar, artificial sweeteners have stepped in to fill the gap in people’s favorite recipes, with more than 6,000 products manufactured with aspartame.

But questions are being raised about aspartame’s safety after Reuters reported that the World Health Organization’s cancer research division is set to declare the artificial sweetener “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has “assessed the potential carcinogenicity of aspartame” and will release its findings on July 14, a representative of the organization told CBS MoneyWatch. They did not confirm the Reuters report on the IARC’s conclusion on aspartame’s safety.

IARC examines the carcinogenic potential of substances, while another WHO group oversees recommendations on how much of a product is safe for humans to consume.

Aspartame has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in food products, and the agency concluded that the additive is “safe for the general population.” But questions have lingered about aspartame’s safety, with a 2021 research paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Nutrients noting that “the results of its long-term use remain difficult to predict.”

California is considering banning food additives linked to potential health risks

What is aspartame?

Aspartame is a compound called a methyl ester. The artificial sweetener, which is 200 times as powerful as regular granulated sugar, hit the market as a low-calorie sweetener in 1981. Brand names include Nutrasweet, Equal and Sugar Twin. Since then, it has become a key ingredient in food and drink in North America, Asia and Europe, data from the scientific journal Nutrients shows.

According to several studies, aspartame does not affect blood sugar or insulin levels, making it a popular sugar substitute in foods for diabetics. Manufacturers have also used aspartame in reduced-sugar and sugar-free snacks, condiments and beverages amid research that has linked excessive sugar consumption to various forms of cancer.

Foods containing aspartame

Here are some common foods and beverages that contain aspartame:

  • Zero sugar or diet soda, including Diet Coke
  • Sugar-free gums, such as Trident gum
  • Diet drink mixes, including Crystal Light
  • Condiments with reduced sugar, for example sugar-free syrup in a log cabin
  • Sugar-free gelatin such as Sugar-free Jell-O
  • Tabletop sweeteners sold under brand names including Equal and Nutrasweet

Neither Coca-Cola, maker of Diet Coke, nor other manufacturers of foods containing aspartame immediately returned requests for comment.

To be sure, specific sweeteners used in low-sugar products vary, and companies sometimes change ingredients. To get the most accurate information, consumers should check the ingredient lists on individual products to confirm whether or not it contains aspartame.

Is aspartame dangerous?

While several studies have determined that aspartame is safe in moderate amounts, some research has linked aspartame consumption to cancer. An observational study of more than 100,000 adults in France concluded that people who consumed higher amounts of artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, had a slightly elevated risk of cancer.

Aspartame can also cause headaches, seizures and depression, some studies have shown.

However, the FDA and the American Cancer Society both still consider aspartame to be safe for human consumption.

Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council, an international association representing low- and reduced-calorie foods and drinks, said the “misleading claims” by the IARC lacked context.

“Consumers deserve the facts, and the fact is that aspartame is safe and one of the most studied food ingredients, which is why the Calorie Control Council is seriously concerned about any unsubstantiated and misleading claims that contradict decades of science and global regulatory approvals,” he said in a statement to CBS News.

According to the FDA’s acceptable daily limit for artificial sweeteners, a 150-pound adult would need to consume more than 18 cans of zero-sugar soda per day to experience serious negative health consequences from aspartame.

This story has been updated to correct the previous inclusion of Smucker’s on the list. Smucker’s said it does not use aspartame in its low-sugar jams.

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