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Earlier this month, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that aspartame will now be classified as a possible carcinogen. Global news outlets reported this announcement, causing concern among many people who saw their favorite treats contain this artificial sweetener.
Is aspartame a carcinogen?
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in many products like diet sodas, sugar-free gum, and even some kinds of toothpastes. Much sweeter than sugar, it can be used in smaller amounts to sweeten foods without adding calories. Concerns about its safety have been the subject of table conversations for many years.
According to the American Cancer Society, carcinogens are substances capable of causing cancer. IARC sorts carcinogens into four groups. These groups range from substances that are certain to cause cancer, like tobacco and excess sun exposure to substances that cannot be classified as a carcinogen due to lack of evidence. Aspartame sweetener will now live in Group 2B, meaning that there is limited evidence showing it could be carcinogenic to humans. This classification calls for more research to be done as it does not prove that aspartame causes cancer for certain.
“We already have an established acceptable daily intake for aspartame, which is set at zero to 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. This level is much higher than what the average person is consuming,” says Preib.
How much aspartame is in Diet Coke?
One of the most popular diet sodas, Diet Coke, contains about 200 milligrams of aspartame per 12-ounce can. For a person that weighs 150 pounds, they can safely consume around 14 cans of Diet Coke per day.
“I always practice and preach moderation. We can use this new information, as well as what we already know, to make educated food choices,” says Preib.
Individuals can follow these recommendations to make healthy drink choices:
- Drink more water throughout the day.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Sweeten drinks with fruit slices or a few tablespoons of fruit juice.
- Use sparkling water as an alternative to soda.
- Choose coffee or green tea, which are shown to fight cancer.
For those who are drinking more than 14 cans of diet soda a day, Preib says there are multiple benefits to cutting back aside from cancer risk. Drinking more beverages like water, tea, and black coffee can help with digestion and supply patients with important vitamins and minerals.
“As a dietitian at Huntsman Cancer Institute, we know that many foods and drinks are associated with cancer risk,” says Preib. “Part of my job is going over this information with a patient. What can we do to make these foods a part of a healthy and balanced diet? Quality of life and enjoying the things you love are always a part of the conversation.”
The Wellness and Integrative Health Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute supports current and former patients, loved ones, and staff throughout their journey with cancer. Patients can meet with an outpatient dietitian to help find a sustainable eating plan that is right for them.
Actions like eating healthy can help prevent cancer.