Is There a Cancer Risk Lurking in my Diet Drink?
Carli Hill RD, CSO, CD
How many of you have heard that you shouldn’t drink “diet” beverages because the sweetener in them causes cancer? Then, have you ever wondered if it was true? Well, hopefully the next few paragraphs will answer some of your questions.
There are several kinds of artificial sweeteners, but two, in particular, have received the most attention when it comes to a link with cancer. Aspartame and saccharin.
Aspartame, also seen as Equal or Nutrasweet, was linked to leukemia and lymphoma in an animal study. However, when human intake of aspartame was studied, no connection was found to leukemia, lymphoma, or brain tumors. There wasn’t even a link found when consumption was as high as 3400 mg of aspartame per day (~19 cans of diet soda).
Saccharin, also seen as Sweet ’N Low, was connected with bladder cancer in an animal study. Yet, when looking at the mechanism behind the connection, scientists found that this link was specific to rats and didn’t apply to humans. Additionally, further human studies haven’t shown consistent evidence to link saccharin to cancer in humans.
Now that we’ve cleared up the mystery behind those two sweeteners, what about some of the others, such as Acesulfame potassium (Sweet One, Sunett) and Sucralose (Splenda)? The FDA has conducted over 100 studies for each of those sweeteners and no evidence was found to suggest either one could cause cancer.
So, in a nutshell, there is no convincing evidence to link artificial sweeteners to cancer risk. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the products made with those sweeteners are “healthy”. Take a look at the other ingredients on the label, keep in mind the other topics we’ve been discussing, and then make an educated decision.