Pepsi Says It Will Take Aspartame Out Of Diet Soda (But There’s A Catch)
Due to increasing public pressure to get aspartame—a fake sweetener linked to headaches and other health problems—out of its products, Pepsi announced Friday it will remove the ingredient from several diet soda products by late this summer.
“Diet cola drinkers in the U.S. told us they wanted aspartame-free Diet Pepsi and we’re delivering,” Seth Kaufman, SVP Pepsi and Flavors Portfolio, PepsiCo North America Beverages, said in a release. “We recognize that consumer demand is evolving and we’re confident that cola-lovers will enjoy the crisp, refreshing taste of this new product.”
There’s conflicting evidence regarding the safety of aspartame, but some people report headaches or generally feeling unwell after ingesting anything containing the chemical. A University of Liverpool test-tube study found that when mixed with a common food color ingredient, aspartame actually became toxic to brain cells. Researchers have also shown that drinking two diet sodas a day can lead to a 500 percent increase in waist size. Other animal studies suggest that aspartame actually increases blood glucose levels similarly to sugar, which could explain the association between diet soda and diabetes. A final problem with aspartame: Researchers have found that one harmful breakdown product is formaldehyde, a known cancer-causer.
“Three top-quality studies have found that aspartame causes cancer in animals, so the less that people consume the better,” says Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest. “That Diet Pepsi will be specifically marketed as ‘Aspartame Free’ is a blunt acknowledgment that consumers have soured on aspartame, and the new cans should increase consumer awareness even further and spur other food and beverage companies to abandon it (including in Diet Coke).”
By August, all Diet Pepsi, Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi, and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi will be aspartame-free, although the products will still be sweetened with a mix of artificial sweeteners sucralose (brand name: Splenda) and acesulfame potassium (also known as acesulfame K). Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than table sugar. While Anne Alexander, author of Sugar Smart Express, says removing aspartame from diet soda seems to be a step in the right direction for consumers, she noted in her bestselling book, The Sugar Smart Diet, that evidence suggests exposing your taste buds to high-intensity sweeteners makes them less receptive to natural sources of sweetness such as fruit. “When your taste buds get dulled, you’re more likely to seek out sweeter and sweeter foods,” she notes. “Of course, it’s best for people to avoid artificial—even natural-ish—sweeteners altogether and embrace refreshing options,” she says. (See her flavored water recipe below.)
Sucralose and acesulfame potassium are polluting waterways, too. Both artificial sweeteners have been detected in municipal water treatment supplies and rivers. Beyond that, Jacobson warns acesulfame K is poorly tested, but the tests done by the manufacturer in the 1970s suggest that it, too, might pose a cancer risk. “As with aspartame, it is to the Food and Drug Administration’s discredit that the agency hadn’t required better studies long ago,” he says.
Another consideration? If you’re trying to avoid GMOs, you should still avoid the reformulated soda, since sucralose could be made from corn, soy, or sugar beets, crops that often come from genetically engineered seeds in the U.S.
Bored with plain water? Homemade flavored water can help you ease off of your soda habit. Try this WAY healthier flavored water recipes from Anne Alexander’s Sugar Smart Express:
You’ve never tasted water like this—all flavor, and not a grain of sugar added. This tasty libation is a sweet stand-ins for the sugary drinks you may be missing once you give up soda!
2 cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
2 jalapeño chile peppers, seeded and sliced (wear plastic gloves when handling)
Simply place the ingredients in a 2-quart jar, muddle with a wooden spoon or spatula, cover with 6 cups of ice, fill the jar with water, and stir. Pop it in the refrigerator for 2 hours to chill and let those luscious flavors mingle. Strain, then drink up! Each recipe makes 2 quarts and will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.