Aspartame is the most widely used artificial sweetener in the world. Despite this, the controversy regarding its safety refuses to end, posing a challenge to its success. However, alongside addressing such concerns with credible information, companies must also educate consumers to use the sweetener appropriately through marketing at their target audience and emphasizing the product's purpose.
The European Commission has requested an immediate complete review of the safety of aspartame in response to concerns over the widely used artificial sweetener. However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which was created in 2002 and has already dealt with aspartame on several occasions, has previously reported no indication that it presents a risk in terms of genotoxicity and carcinogenesis. The EFSA, therefore, has advised to find no reason to change the daily admissible dose of aspartame, which is established at 40mg per kilogram of body weight.
Millions of people restrict their intake of regular sucrose for different reasons, including diabetes and weight control. Tapping into this need, high intensity sweetener manufacturers have watched a very promising market arising from the launch of a set of artificial and natural low calorie sweeteners which fit different product matrices and food processing conditions. Despite the enormous success, each of these substances has drawbacks and none is considered to be completely satisfactory.
The controversy over the safety of aspartame seems to be endless, and this has given rise to the popularity of alternative sweeteners such as sucralose and stevia. While sucralose features higher processing and shelf-life stability, therefore proving very convenient for the processed food industry, stevia has caught consumers' attention due to its natural appeal. However, both substances also present limitations, especially in terms of their sensory profiles, which is an area where aspartame features a lot of positives.
The reality is that no matter how much scientific evidence is generated, there will always be skeptics, and consumer interest will be highly dependent on how effective companies are in providing credible safety information.
As people worldwide become more dependent on substituting sucrose with low calorie sweeteners, the effects of such substances on health will be increasingly debated. However, while addressing the safety of aspartame and other high intensity sweeteners is crucial in gaining credibility with consumers, it is also important for consumers to understand that all these substances are not intended to be used excessively or indiscriminately.
Low calorie sweeteners should rather be targeted at those who, for some health reason, cannot consume sucrose. Therefore, the success of aspartame and other high intensity sweeteners also strongly depends on appropriate marketing messages which emphasize both the purpose of product usage and the targeted consumer base.