Is Aspartame a Carcinogen?
Is Aspartame a Carcinogen?
  • Kim Jung-min
  • 승인 2023.09.22 12:42
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More and more people are looking for zero-calorie foods and beverages to take care of their health. The demand for zero-calorie foods is increasing because most people think that zero-calorie foods have less calories and will result in less weight than eating regular foods. However, do you know the other side of zero calories, like the fact that aspartame, which is mainly used in zero-calorie foods, can harm your body? ST has delved into this fact. ......Ed

     On July 14, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) and the JECFA (Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN), and the WHO (World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives) issued a press release containing the results of the aspartame hazard assessment and decided to classify aspartame in category Group 2B, meaning that it can be possibly carcinogenic to humans. They also reconfirmed the daily intake allowance of 40 mg per kilogram of body weight. IARC classifies 1 (defined carcinogen), 2A (probable carcinogen), 2B (possible carcinogen), and 3 (non-classifiable) according to the risk of cancer. Group 1 includes alcohol, tobacco, and processed meat, Group 2A includes red meat and high-temperature fried foods, and Group 2B includes pickled vegetables such as kimchi and pickles. Group 2B is mainly classified when there is a possibility of carcinogenesis but not enough evidence. IARC and JECFA said, “Based on limited evidence, we classified aspartame into Group 2B and there are no sufficient reasons to change the existing daily intake of aspartame.”

     So, what is aspartame? Aspartame is a synthetic sweetener in the form of white powder known to have a higher sweetness than sugar. It is used in various foods such as yogurt and makgeolli and is also one of the key ingredients of the so-called ‘zero calories’ in that it has few calories. Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, so it is commonly used because it can taste the same even with only 1/200 of the sugar content. In addition, aspartame has been evaluated as an excellent alternative for diabetics because it does not significantly impact blood sugar even if aspartame enters our body. However, as aspartame is possibly carcinogenic to humans, consumers’ reactions turned negative to it. Consumers said, “As safety has not been resolved, we will reduce the consumption of beverages.” and added, “It is reasonable to choose something without controversy.” In other words, as the controversy over the possible carcinogenicity of aspartame arose, consumers tended to avoid aspartame. However, is aspartame harmful to humans?

     The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety explained, “To reach the daily intake allowance of aspartame (based on 60kg of adults), 55 cans of zero cola (250 mL) and 33 bottles of Takju (750 mL) per day.” Also, According to a 2019 survey by the ministry, South Koreans consume about 0.12 percent of the WHO’s acceptable daily intake of aspartame. Considering that no significant side effects of
aspartame have been identified so far that most people consume aspartame lower than the daily intake and that the WHO said there is no stability problem if aspartame is consumed below the recommended daily dose, aspartame will not cause harmful effects on us. To put it another way, when it comes to processed foods, including ‘Zero Sugar’ products, we don’t have to worry too much. But that doesn’t mean that excessive consumption of aspartame is not harmful to health. Since aspartame is also added to various foods and drugs, it may cause problems with excessive intake. Therefore, consumers need to be alert not to consume too much aspartame, although daily consumption of aspartame is likely not a problem.


Kim Jung-min (ST Cub-Reporter)

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