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Artificial sweetener aspartame has sparked controversy since it was first approved for use in the 1980s, despite being one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives.

Aspartame, also known as E951 or NutraSweet, is about 200 times sweeter than sugar but contains very few calories.

Foods and drinks around the world use aspartame as a sugar substitute, including breakfast cereals and sugar-free chewing gum.

Food safety experts have been keeping aspartame’s use under close scrutiny since a number of anecdotal reports pointed to potential side-effects.

A study published by the Ramazzini Foundation in Bologna, Italy, in July 2005 claimed to have shown that rats given dosages of aspartame equivalent to those in humans may develop tumors.Aspartame food and drinks

However, European regulators who assessed this research were not convinced by it and concluded that aspartame could still be used as a food additive.

The FDA says there are more than 100 studies that support aspartame’s safety.

Regulators also agree that there should be a limit to how much of the sweetener people consume.

An adult would have to consume 14 cans of a sugar-free drink every day to reach this limit.

There are some people who cannot safely consume aspartame. These are people with an inherited disease called phenylketonuria (PKU).

People with PKU are unable to metabolize a component of aspartame.


PepsiCo has decided to remove controversial artificial sweetener aspartame from its Diet Pepsi in the US amid consumer concerns about its safety.

Aspartame-free Pepsi cans will go on sale from August in the US.

However, regulators insist aspartame is still safe to use in soft drinks.

PepsiCo says its decision is a commercial one – responding to consumer preferences.Diet Pepsi aspartame

In 2014, sales in Diet Pepsi fell by more than 5% in the US, according to latest figures.

Similarly, sales of Diet Coke, which also contains aspartame, decreased by more than 6%.

PepsiCo says it will replace aspartame with sucralose (commercial name Splenda) mixed with acesulfame potassium (Ace-K).

Pepsi VP Seth Kaufman said: “Aspartame is the number one reason consumers are dropping diet soda.”

In tests, Seth Kaufman said, people still recognized the reformulated drink to be Diet Pepsi but it might have a “slightly different mouth-feel”.

The change only applies to the US market and will affect all varieties of Diet Pepsi, such as Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi. It will not apply to other PepsiCo drinks, such as Diet Mountain Dew.


Experts are questioning whether diet drinks could raise depression risk, after a large study has found a link.

The US research in more than 250,000 people found depression was more common among frequent consumers of artificially sweetened beverages.

The work, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting, did not look at the cause for this link.

Drinking coffee was linked with a lower risk of depression.

People who drank four cups a day were 10% less likely to be diagnosed with depression during the 10-year study period than those who drank no coffee.

But those who drank four cans or glasses of diet fizzy drinks or artificially sweetened juice a day increased their risk of depression by about a third.

Experts are questioning whether diet drinks could raise depression risk, after a large study has found a link

Experts are questioning whether diet drinks could raise depression risk, after a large study has found a link

Lead researcher Dr. Honglei Chen, of the National Institutes of Health in North Carolina, said: “Our research suggests that cutting out or down on sweetened diet drinks or replacing them with unsweetened coffee may naturally help lower your depression risk.”

But he said more studies were needed to explore this.

There are many other factors that may be involved.

And the findings – in people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s and living in the US – might not apply to other populations.

The safety of sweeteners, like aspartame, has been extensively tested by scientists and is assured by regulators.

Gaynor Bussell, of the British Dietetic Association, said: “Sweeteners used to be called <<artificial>> sweeteners and unfortunately the term ‘artificial’ has evoked suspicion. As a result, sweeteners have been very widely tested and reviewed for safety and the ones on the market have an excellent safety track record.

“However, the studies on them continue and this one has thrown up a possibly link – not a cause and effect – with depression.”

She said the study was a “one-off” and did not mean that sweeteners caused depression.

“For a start, people who suffer from depression may latch on to the idea that it is their sweetened beverages that caused it and so add a bias to their reporting of past intake, especially as <<soda>> in the US is demonized even more than in the UK. Also, it may be that drinking <<diet>> drinks is a marker for obesity or diabetes which in themselves can cause depression.

“Non-calorific sweeteners can play a useful role in the diets of those trying to lose weight and diabetics and it is certainly not advocated that people should replace their diet sodas with more coffee.”