Since the emergence of artificial sweeteners including saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame, nutritional experts have approached the excessive consumption of these products with caution. A risk assessment of aspartame carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found that at moderate levels, exposure to this artificial sweetener is generally safe.
"Aspartame has been the sweetener with the biggest 'conspiracy theory' stories ever, ranging from behavior issues in children to liver damage and cancer, all totally disproven, yet again, by this detailed scientific review," Principal Dietitian at St. George's Hospital NHS Trust Catherine Collins told the BBC.
Aspartame, a low-calorie sweetener considered 200 times sweeter than actual sugar, has been criticized by studies in the past for being an unhealthy and possibly dangerous alternative to sugar. Although it is currently found in over 6,000 products, aspartame is most notably found in Coca-Cola products in place of sugar. Coca-Cola has even launched an advertising campaign defending the safe and even beneficial qualities of aspartame.
While no federal health agency regards aspartame or any other artificial sweetener as a possible hazardous substance, a string of recent studies have tied the consumption of sugar substitutes to various health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Both the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not accept any scientific research that supports the hazardous effects of aspartame.
Over the course of this thorough safety review, members of EFSA’S Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Foods (ANS Panel) reviewed numerous studies and data sources compiled after two public calls. Researchers also listened to stakeholders’ opinions and more than 200 comments from a public consultation. Scientific data was taken from breakdown of aspartame’s makeup, which includes phenylalanine, methanol and aspartic acid.
Under the current Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of 40 mg/kg, the EFSA found that exposure to aspartame had no effect on behavioral or cognitive functioning, the brain’s neurological development, or the central nervous system. The EFSA began their analysis back in May 2011 at the request of the European Commission. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves 50 mg/kg of aspartame for its ADI.
“This opinion represents one of the most comprehensive risk assessments of aspartame ever undertaken,” said the chair of EFSA’s ANS Panel, Dr. Alicja Mortensen. “It’s a step forward in strengthening consumer confidence in the scientific underpinning of the EU food safety system and the regulation of food additives.”