The European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) issued a ruling on December 11 declaring aspartame, the artificial sweetener used to make Diet Coke and other zero-calorie products, is safe for consumption. After conducting a thorough study of over 200 different scientific papers examining the question of whether the substance can cause cancer and other health problems, the ESFA determined that it could find no conclusive evidence that aspartame posed a significant threat, according to WebMD.
They're not the only institution to rule the artificial sweetener safe. The American Cancer Society (ACS) also has found that there is no reason to believe that aspartame is less safe than any other food item, considering that it breaks down into three compounds – phenylalanine, methanol, and aspartic acid – that are found in other foods. The lone exceptions that the EFSA, ACS and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration list on their websites are patients with phenylketonuria, who cannot digest phenylalanine.
But these are arguments that we've all heard before. Various medical associations and researchers have all claimed that aspartame is in fact a safe product to consume, but at the same time there continue to be reports that this substance causes substantial neurological disorders and has carcinogenic properties. Whole websites are dedicated to proving that it can be a harmful toxin when consumed in mass quantities.
So who is right? It depends largely on where you tend to place scientific authority. There are legitimate concerns among environmentalists and public health advocates that governmental health institutions are corrupted by corporations who want their products to receive the blessing of doctors so that they can be sold as "healthy" items. If you're concerned about the impartiality of studies demonstrating the safety of aspartame, you may want to consider switching to an all-natural substitute like Stevia, which is now available at most grocery stores. Or you can avoid soda entirely and stick with naturally-sweetened foods and beverages.