Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe? Exploring the Health Implications and FDA Guidelines

The WHO's Concerns about Aspartame

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified aspartame as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." This classification is based on research linking aspartame to liver cancer.

However, the FDA reassures consumers that there is no need to worry about aspartame causing cancer or to change their consumption of the sweetener.

The FDA's stance is that the WHO designation suggests a potential link, but it is not certain or causative.

A separate WHO committee conducted a risk assessment on aspartame and concluded that the guidelines for its use do not need to change.

FDA's Reassurance about Aspartame

The FDA has stated that aspartame is safe for human consumption if used according to certain guidelines.

FDA scientists reviewed the scientific information included in the WHO's review and found significant shortcomings in the studies used to reach the conclusion that aspartame is possibly carcinogenic.

The FDA does not have safety concerns when aspartame is used under the approved conditions.

The FDA emphasizes that aspartame users do not need to worry about cancer or change their consumption of the sweetener.

What is Aspartame?

Aspartame is the most widely used artificial sweetener in the world.

It is approximately 200 times sweeter than table sugar, so smaller amounts are needed to achieve the same level of sweetness.

Aspartame can be found in various products, including diet sodas, beverages, chewing gum, medications, toothpastes, candy, pudding, and gelatin.

Using a packet of NutraSweet in coffee adds about four calories, while achieving the same level of sweetness as two teaspoons of sugar, which contains 32 calories.

Aspartame's History and Guidelines

The FDA approved the use of aspartame in 1974, but the decision was temporarily suspended due to concerns raised by early animal studies.

In 1981, after a rigorous investigation, the FDA allowed the sale of aspartame in dry foods.

The FDA and WHO established guidelines for an acceptable daily intake of aspartame, with the WHO recommending a maximum of forty milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day.

These guidelines have not changed since their establishment in the 1980s.

Approved Sweeteners and Alternatives

Apart from aspartame, the FDA has approved five other artificial sweeteners: acesulfame potassium, sucralose, neotame, advantame, and saccharin.

Additionally, there are three plant-based sweeteners that are generally recognized as safe: steviol glycosides (from the stevia plant), extracts from monk fruit, and thaumatin (from the West African Katemfe fruit).

Sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol and xylitol, are another type of sweetener that are commonly used in sugar-free candies, cookies, and chewing gums.

Furthermore, there are sugars that are metabolized differently than traditional sugars, such as D-allulose, D-tagatose, and isomaltulose, which are generally recognized as safe.

Regulations on Sweeteners in the U.S.

In the United States, sweeteners and other food additives must be safe for consumption under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The FDA reviews and approves new food additives before they can be marketed, ensuring their safety based on the latest scientific information.

If an ingredient is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by qualified experts, it can be marketed without going through the FDA's approval process.

The FDA has established acceptable daily intake levels for approved sweeteners to ensure their safe consumption.


Dr. Faith Coleman. (July 20, 2023). Worried About Aspartame? A Look At Which Artificial Sweeteners Are Safe To Use.

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