Ask the experts: Diet drinks

Reviewed by our expert panel
Ask the experts: Diet drinks

Q: "I've heard a lot about aspartame in the media lately. Should I be drinking diet drinks? Are they safe?"

(Name not supplied)

A: Diet drinks, and other foods containing the low-kilojoule sweetener aspartame, are entirely safe to include in your diet. We know this because there has been an incredible amount of research on aspartame over many years.

There has recently been a lot of misinformation about aspartame in the media. This may explain why, during 2008, volume sales of diet drinks have fallen by 5% while sales for regular soft drinks have increased by 9%.

In September 2008, Professor Bernadene Magnuson was in New Zealand talking about aspartame. She was lead author of an independent panel of nine toxicologists who reviewed the safety of aspartame in 2007. After viewing hundreds of studies and reports, they concluded aspartame is a thoroughly studied sweetener, with a long history of safe use in food, which can help reduce the energy content of many foods.

Wasn't that review funded by the food industry, who use aspartame in their products?

A: It has been reported Coca-Cola paid for Professor Magnuson's travel expenses to visit New Zealand and speak about the panel findings. This has led many people to assume Coca-Cola must have influenced the findings of the review panel, and the review could not be independent.

This is not true. None of the panelists had ever undertaken research paid for by, or had any association with, any industry group associated with aspartame.The review was commissioned 'blind', which means the panel did not know who funded its work, nor did the funders (Ajinomoto) know who was on the panel until after the review was accepted for publication. In fact, a number of the authors went into the process thinking they might find evidence of an adverse effect, but after examining the research, all were convinced of aspartame's safety.

What do HFG experts recommend?

A: There are many healthy drink choices: water, juice, different teas, coffee, milk… It's possible to live life without soft drinks, diet or otherwise, and other products containing aspartame. They're not a necessary part of anyone's diet. So if, for any reason, you want to avoid aspartame, it's not difficult. Aspartame appears in the ingredients list either by its name or number (951). Products containing aspartame also state 'contains phenylalanine'. But if you like soft drinks and you're concerned about weight-gain, or keen to consume less sugar, we recommend you consider the diet versions. Sugary drinks are not something you should have every day. Remember, water is your best choice.

First published: Nov 2008
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