If you like the idea of zero or low-calorie sodas, but you’re turned off by the artificial sweetener aspartame, you’re not alone.
Sales of diet soda have fallen off significantly in the U.S. And when PepsiCo started asking consumers what they didn’t like, aspartame was at the top of the list.
“It’s literally the number-one complaint we’ve heard from diet-cola consumers as to why they’re drinking less and less diet cola, ” Seth Kaufman, a senior vice president for PepsiCo, tells The Salt.
So, beginning in August, a newly formulated aspartame-free Diet Pepsi will hit the shelves, the company says. The drink will be sweetened with a blend of sucralose, known by the trade name Splenda, and another sweetener known as Ace K.
Kaufman expressed confidence that the reformulation offers the same crisp, refreshing taste and will begin to revive the appeal of diet cola.
The Food and Drug Administration has long concluded that aspartame is safe in the amounts commonly used by the food industry. And numerous studies conducted over the last several decades have added to confidence in its safety.
This year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reiterated this conclusion regarding the safety of aspartame in its report released in February. The panel did, however, point to a “possible association between aspartame and risk of some [blood] cancers (non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma) in men, indicating the need for more long-term human studies.”
The committee also wrote that there was not enough evidence to “draw any conclusions on the relationship between aspartame [consumption] and headaches.”
As we’ve reported, there are lots of theories about why diet drinks, despite their name, may not help people fend off weight gain.
A piece published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2013 suggested that “frequent consumers of these sugar substitutes (such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharin) may also be at increased risk of … metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
And the findings of the San Antonio Heart Study point to a strong link between diet soda consumption and weight gain over time.
But there are also studies that suggest zero-calorie sweetened beverages, including diet soda, may help people maintain their weight.
For instance, a study we covered a few years back by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital found that overweight teens did well fending off weight gain when they switched from sugar-laden drinks to zero-calorie options such as diet soda.
Given the mixed bag of research, it’s not surprising that some diet soda drinkers have been rethinking their beverage of choice.
And, given Diet Pepsi’s swap from aspartame to a blend of other artificial sweeteners, only time will tell how consumers respond.