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Our response to reports classifying aspartame as a ‘possible’ cause of cancer 


The findings of two new reports conclude that the sweetener aspartame could be a “possible” cause of cancer. Here, our Head of Care Douglas Twenefour, examines the evidence and looks at why the current acceptable daily intake (ADI) of aspartame remains safe. 

Douglas Twenefour
Douglas Twenefour

These new reports were issued in relation to the safety of aspartame as a non-sugar sweetener. Aspartame is a popular sweetener usually found in sugar-free chewing gums and diet fizzy drinks, which can be popular replacements for sugary drinks among people living with diabetes.

One report was published by the Working Group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and another from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) 

The IARC report classifies aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, but the authors said this was based on “limited” evidence for cancer in humans, and insufficient evidence in experimental animals.  

While many people are concerned about the safety of non-sugar sweeteners in general, and there have been several reviews previously into aspartame, our position remains that the current level of intake of sweeteners (including aspartame) is safe.  

What the reports found 

The JECFA wanted to reassess how much aspartame could be a risk for cancer, and following a review of evidence, the IARC classified aspartame as a possible cancer risk within Group 2B of carcinogens. 

To put this in context, the highest group of carcinogens belongs to Group 1 followed by Group 2A before Group 2B. Examples of Group 1 carcinogens includes alcohol, processed meat and the sun. And examples of Group 2A carcinogens include red meat and working night shifts. 

The JECFA concluded that there was no reason to change the previously established ADI of 0-40mg/kg for every kg of body weight each day. ADI is the level of daily intake that does not lead to adverse health effects.  

As a standard 330ml of a canned diet drink contains roughly 200 to 300mg of aspartame, on average, this means that an adult weighing 75kg would need to drink more than 10 to 15 cans a day to exceed this intake. This is a huge amount, and most people are unlikely to be drinking more than 10 to 15 cans of diet drinks on a daily basis.  

What this means 

Our advice on non-sugar sweeteners is that they can be used as an option to reduce sugar and calorie intake. And this may lead to weight loss in the short term. But, in the long term, we are encouraging people to reduce the overall sweetness in their diet. 

The full IARC and JECFA report can be read here.

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