Aspartame, an artificial sweetener 200 times sweeter than sucrose, was accidentally discovered in 1965 by a chemist working on an anti-ulcer drug. It was approved for use in soft drinks in 1983, and by 1984 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was evaluating claims of adverse effects.
Still, aspartame’s popularity continued to grow. It’s estimated to be in use in more than 6,000 products.
Later studies reported cancer risks. Over time rumblings about dehydration, cravings for sweet foods and weight gain, metabolic disorders and even hormone changes grew louder. Now, the World Health Organization’s cancer research group says that aspartame is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
To be fair, WHO also said the new guidance for safe consumption is 40 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight, which means someone weighing 150 pounds could drink as many as a dozen cans a day.
However, if you are at all concerned about the risk, here are some aspartame-free alternatives to reach for instead:
Iced tea is easy to find in stores and easy to make at home. You can choose from a variety of flavors, make your own by adding fruits and mix and match caffeinated or caffeine-free. Be careful of southern-style sweet teas though, as they contain loads of sugar.
Kombucha is made from fermented black or green tea. It is lightly caffeinated, has a little bit of fizz and natural sweetness and is said to be great for gut health.
Sparkling water fizzes when you open (and drink it) and comes in seemingly endless flavors.
Seltzer and bitters
A bar staple of non-drinkers, it’s zippy, sort of sophisticated and very satisfying.
Pomegranate juice and club soda
It’s so good. Tangy with a little bit of pink foam.
Shrubs are non-alcoholic home brews made from fruit-infused vinegar and bubbly water. They come in farm-to-table flavors like rhubarb-beet and turmeric-cucumber, so enjoy – or beware? The natives swear by them.
Browse the popular social media channels for an abundance of homemade soda substitutions. The best thing about finding a recipe on the web is that there will be reviews to read before you start.
Sugared soft drinks
You can also avoid aspartame by drinking regular sodas again. However, remember why you switched to sugar free in the first place. Recite “13 teaspoons of sugar” per serving, give or take, when you feel tempted.
We take it for granted, but it’s sugarless, easy to find and free, unless you buy bottled water. Bottled water prices range from a couple of bucks to very expensive.
One warning: Don’t drink more than a quart or so of water per hour, particularly if you’re doing something strenuous. That can cause a dangerous electrolyte imbalance.