Sometimes you want something a bit more pizazzy than water — like a diet soda. But if you have a rare hereditary disorder known as phenylketonuria (PKU), you need to limit your intake of phenylalanine, found in aspartame. For this, and other reasons, you may want a diet soda without aspartame.
Don't worry. Finding a diet drink without aspartame isn't that hard. Even some of the most common brands, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, have options.
Many diet sodas without aspartame are available, including Diet Coke with Splenda, Coca-Cola Life and Diet Pepsi with Splenda.
What Is Aspartame?
Aspartame is a sugar substitute approximately 200 times sweeter than table sugar, so just a small amount is needed to sweeten food or beverages. Although it contains 4 calories per gram, the same number of calories in sugar, far less is needed to achieve sweetness, so, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation, it adds negligible calories to food.
It's one of the most popular artificial sweeteners, according to information provided by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Aspartame is composed of aspartic acid and phenylalanine, two amino acids.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of aspartame in carbonated beverages in 1983, and many other leading global health agencies, including the World Health Organization, Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority approve its use in foods and beverages.
How Much Aspartame Is Safe?
The FDA says the acceptable daily intake for aspartame is 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, per day. This means that a person who weighs 150 pounds can safely consume 3,400 milligrams of the artificial sweetener – or approximately 19 cans of diet soda — every day.
For some people, however, consumption of aspartame is not safe. A hereditary disorder called phenylketonuria requires you strictly limit your intake of phenylalanine, one of the components of aspartame. Always choose diet drinks without aspartame if you have this condition.
The amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid are present in natural foods, however, so aspartame isn't the only source. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out that a serving of nonfat milk provides six to nine more of the amino acid phenylalanine and 13 times more aspartic acid than a beverage sweetened with aspartame.
Does Aspartame Cause Cancer?
The American Cancer Society notes that some rumors pointing to aspartame causing cancer do exist, but affirms that major health organizations have not found this to be true.
Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology published a meta analysis in April 2019 concluding that current evidence shows that consumption of low- and no-calorie sweeteners and beverages, including those containing aspartame, are not associated with an increased risk of cancer in humans.
What About Recent Aspartame Research?
Although federal agencies still support consumption of aspartame at the level of 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, recent research brings the safety of the sugar sweetener into question.
A paper published in Nutrition Review in September 2017 advised that recommendations as to the safety of aspartame be revisited. This review of the literature suggests that there may be potential side effects associated with aspartame consumption. The researchers note that aspartame may interfere with your antioxidant/oxidant balance and induce oxidative stress — essentially compromising the integrity of your cells and leading to systemic inflammation.
Nutritional Neuroscience published a paper in June 2018 noting that use of aspartame has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems — such as headaches, irritable mood, depression and insomnia. Aspartame acts as a chemical stressor, which can have adverse effects on brain health. The researchers advise that aspartame consumption be approached with caution and that more research about the impact of aspartame on neurobehavior be conducted.
A thorough review published in Nutrition Journal in September 2017 noted that there are numerous evidence gaps related to the health effects of nonnutritive sweeteners, including aspartame, so more research is necessary to affirm their safety.
Why Is Aspartame Used?
The Coca-Cola Company, for example, explains that too much sugar in the diet isn't healthy. Reduced and no-sugar versions of drinks provide a way to cut back on sugar without having to give up the beverages you enjoy.
Even though major health organizations haven't come out against consumption of aspartame-containing drinks, you may choose to avoid them in an abundance of caution.
Diet Soda Without Aspartame
Many diet sodas are aspartame free. These include products from major companies such as Coca Cola and Pepsi.
From Coca-Cola, for example, Diet Coke with Splenda or Coca-Cola Life are options for diet soda without aspartame. Splenda is an artificial sweetener made from sugar. The chemical structure is altered so that much of it passes through your body undigested and unabsorbed.
Coca-Cola Life is sweetened with a blend of cane sugar and stevia leaf extract. Stevia is a naturally sweet plant that can be used to offer noncaloric sweetening. Coca-Cola Life has 35 percent fewer calories than traditional Coke and less added sugar.
Aspartame is still present in the Coca-Cola products Diet Coke, Fanta Zero and Fresca. Aspartame is also a Coke Zero sweetener.
Pepsi offers aspartame-free diet sodas too. Diet Pepsi with Splenda provides a diet soda without aspartame added. Note that other diet sodas from Pepsico, including Diet Mountain Dew and diet Mugg's root beer, contain aspartame.
Other soda manufacturers offer aspartame-free diet sodas that can satisfy your desire for a bubbly drink without the artificial sweetener and still no calories. Zevia, for example, uses stevia leaf extract to sweeten all of their soda products. Flavors include traditional cola, but also fruit options such as black cherry and orange as well as ginger ale, root beer and cream varieties. The company says it uses only plant-based ingredients and essences to make their beverages.
- Coca-Cola Company: "Product Facts"
- Zevia: "FAQs"
- Hansen's: "Find Your Flavor"
- American Cancer Society: "Does Aspartame Cause Cancer?"
- Nutrition Reviews: "Revisiting the Safety of Aspartame"
- Nutritional Neuroscience: "Neurophysiological Symptoms and Aspartame: What Is the Connection?"
- Nutrition Journal: "Health Outcomes of Nonnutritive Sweeteners"
- University of Alabama at Birmingham: "Artificial Sweeteners"
- Pepsico: "The Facts About Your Favorite Beverages"
- International Food Information Council Foundation: "Everything You Need to Know About Aspartame"
- Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology: "Evaluation of Aspartame Cancer Epidemiology Studies Based on Quality Appraisal Criteria"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Sugar Substitutes: How Much Is Too Much?"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Additional Information About High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States"