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Diet Pepsi Drops Controversial Sweetener Aspartame after Customer Concerns About Safety Aspartame has been Linked to a Range of Health Problems

Anna Hodgekiss
  • But more than 100 studies have deemed it to be safe, says the FDA
  • Diet Pepsi in the US will now be sweetened with sucralose, or Splenda
  • Comes after consumers shy away from such drinks on health grounds

Diet Pepsi will no longer contain the sweetener aspartame due to customer fears over its safety. The controversial sweetener has been linked to a range of health problems, although research has shown it to be safe. PepsiCo said today it is dropping the ingredient from the popular drink in the U.S. in response to customer feedback.

Diet Pepsi, Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi will now contain sucralose, another artificial sweetener commonly known as Splenda. The decision to swap sweeteners comes as after a decade of plummeting sales. Consumers have shifted away from diet drinks because of perceived health concerns about artificial sweeteners, specifically aspartame.

The ingredient, used in fizzy drinks and diet products, has been at the centre of critical reports dating back decades linking it to everything from cancer to premature birth. This is despite the Food and Drug Administration stating that more than 100 studies support aspartame’s safety. However these assurances have failed to convince some people, who continue to report adverse reactions, such as headaches and nausea after consuming foods containing the sweetener.

The sweetener, which is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, is widely used to sweeten diet sodas.  It is also used by rival Coca-Cola Co in its drinks such as Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Schweppes Diet Lemonade.

In a statement today, PepsiCo said: ‘Diet cola drinkers in the U.S. told us they wanted aspartame-free Diet Pepsi and we’re delivering.’ The reformulated drinks will begin appearing on shelves in August. Sales in PepsiCo’s beverage business have been hurt by a long-term decline in soft drink sales in the United States.

And Coca-Cola said this week that sales volume for Diet Coke fell 5 percent in North America in the first three months of the year. Executives at Coke and Pepsi blame the declines on perceptions that aspartame, first sold under the brand name Nutrasweet, is not safe.

Despite aspartame’s poor reputation, it has been ruled a safe food ingredient by food watchdogs in Britain, the EU, the USA and around the world. Last month, a study commissioned by Britain’s food watchdog found eating the sweetener had no impact on the body or behaviour of people who claimed to be sensitive to it.

Aspartame has established itself as an important component in many low-calorie, sugar-free foods and beverages and is primarily responsible for the growth over the last two decades in the sugar-free market.  It is currently consumed by over 200 million people around the world and is found in more than 6,000 products.

These include carbonated soft drinks, powdered soft drinks, chewing gum, dessert mixes, puddings and fillings, frozen desserts, yogurt, tabletop sweeteners, and some pharmaceuticals such as vitamins and sugar-free cough drops.  Aspartame is a nutritive sweetener made by joining two amino acids (protein components) — L-phenylalanine and L-aspartic acid, with a third component called a methyl ester group.

Very little is needed for a sweet taste, making aspartame virtually non-caloric.180 to 200 times sweeter than sucrose. Source: http://www.aspartame.org/

The research had been evaluated by independent experts, peer reviewed and published in the journal PLOS ONE. In December 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published an opinion on aspartame following a full risk assessment and concluded it was ‘safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure’.

This was supported by Britain’s Committee on Toxicity which said the sweetener was safe and there was no need for action, such as taking it off the shelves, to protect public health. But Erik Millstone, Professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex, insists there is good quality independent research which raises safety concerns.

An EU funded project published in 2010 found pregnant women who down cans of fizzy drink containing artificial sweeteners appear to be at greater risk of having a premature baby. It is rare for a mother to be to give birth early – before 37 weeks – assuming all aspects of the pregnancy have been normal.

The research found this low risk was increased by 38 per cent if the woman was drinking an average of one can of diet drink a day. The statistics, gathered by academics in Denmark, showed that a woman who routinely drank at least four cans a day could increase the risk by as much as 78 per cent.

This meant that if the risk of a premature birth was normally one in a 100, it increased to 1.78 in 100. The professor also highlighted work by the independent Ramazzini Foundation in Italy. Scientist there have published research suggesting aspartame caused several types of cancer in rats at doses very close to the current acceptable daily intake for humans.

Despite having virtually, if any calories, But low-calorie artificial sweeteners actually raise the risk of obesity, researchers fear. The popular sugar alternatives found in diet drinks and in sachets in cafes and restaurants may also increase the odds of diabetes.

The sweeteners under the microscope are saccharin, which is found in Sweet’N Low, sucralose, which is found in Splenda, and aspartame, which is found in many diet drinks. The Israeli researchers warned that ‘today’s massive, unsupervised consumption’ of artificial sweeteners needs to be reassessed.

Published: 24 April 2015 By Anna Hodgekiss
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