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Aspartame not so sweet

Did you know that two international bodies have cautioned against aspartame this year (2023), the artificial sweetener? Nevertheless another international body, with ties to industry, continues to endorse its use, and so does NZ.

We wrote a letter to the NZ Listener, but it was not published.


Jane Clifton (12 August 2023) makes the point that the harm from the controversial artificial sweetener aspartame has been judged very differently by two expert bodies. It largely comes down to money, an issue she raises later in her column.


IARC classified aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”

The respected International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in July. Earlier in May, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised people not to consume non-sugar sweeteners for weight loss, including aspartame. Their recommendation is based on a systematic review of the most current scientific evidence, which suggests that consumption of non-sugar sweeteners is associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and all-cause mortality, as well as increased body weight.


Nevertheless, the international Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has reaffirmed the enormous acceptable daily intake of aspartame at 40 mg per kg of body weight, and NZ continues to follow this lead. Research by the U.S. Right to Know group found at least six of 13 JECFA panel members have ties to ILSI, a long-time Coca-Cola front group, and that included both the chair and vice chair of the JECFA panel.


Like many controversial issues, the consumer has to not only navigate the flow of money and power, but also to understand who might lose face. Who stands to lose if aspartame is limited or banned? Who stands to lose public trust if a policy is reversed?

The consumer has to be aware that this addictive sweetener, found in over 6000 foods and medicines, was initially approved in the USA for political and financial reasons, in spite of suspect data being used. It continues to be approved regardless of all the independent scientific and anecdotal data against it.


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