Expert weighs in on WHO announcement about the sweetener aspartame

Jul 13, 2023, 7:00 PM | Updated: Jul 14, 2023, 4:47 pm

Image is of bottles of diet Coke. The World Health Organization announced Thursday that aspartame, ...

Bottles of Diet Coke sit on a shelf in a market in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. The World Health Organization announced Thursday, July 13, 2023 that aspartame, a sweetener found in the drink, may cause cancer (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

(Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — The World Health Organization announced Thursday that aspartame, a sweetener used in Diet Coke, may cause cancer. But that’s not the end of the story.

Dr. John Sievenpiper, a professor at the University of Toronto, joined KSL NewsRadio to explain what doctors from the WHO are saying. And he said there are two messages.


Sievenpiper explained that the World Health Organization has two related groups. One is the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The other is the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives.

It was the International Agency for Research on Cancer that suggested that aspartame is a possible carcinogen.  But it was the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives that assessed aspartame as safe for human consumption. And that assessment was similar to previous safety assessments on aspartame.

Their verdict concluded that eating, or drinking, aspartame at a level of up to 40 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, is safe.

“How much diet soda would you have to consume a day to even be thinking about the risk?” asked KSL NewsRadio’s Jeff Caplan.

“It would be multiple,” Sievenpiper said. “Like 18 cans of soda,” to reach a potentially “dangerous” level, as defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, he said. 

Sievenpiper says the amount of sweetener in each can of Diet Coke is minimal.

“You have to understand most of the aspartame that is in beverages is usually a blend with other sweeteners. And it’s in milligram quantities, so it’s a very small amount. It’s a high-intensity sweetener.”

Sievenpiper says the consumption of Diet Coke is safe under normal conditions. And that the FDA as well as European food safety agencies also say as much.

Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News can be heard on weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m.

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Expert weighs in on WHO announcement about the sweetener aspartame