PepsiCo is making the change in an attempt to bring their products in line with consumer demand following recent decrease in sales. By replacing aspartame, a low-calorie sweetener commonly known as NutraSweet or Equal, with sucralose (think: Splenda), PepsiCo hopes that consumers will feel that diet Pepsi products are more safe and will begin to buy more of them.
This is a significant move in the nutrition world. PepsiCo is making this decision based on the idea that aspartame is unsafe, thus, by switching from aspartame to a different sweetener, diet Pepsi drinks will find favor with consumers once again. Here’s the thing: aspartame has not been found to be unsafe. It is commonly thought that aspartame is a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent); however, research does not back up this claim. Aspartame has been studied extensively and even in high doses, has not been found to cause cancer. The only health concern related to aspartame is the danger it poses for individuals who have phenylketonuria (an inability to metabolize phenylalanine, one of the amino acids found in aspartame). Even with all the research exhibiting the safety of aspartame, and reputable resources such as the American Cancer Society and Food & Drug Administration stating that aspartame is not harmful, the notion that this sweetener will cause cancer is pervasive enough that a major national beverage company has decided to change its products to remove aspartame.
Let me make three things clear: First, I am neither promoting nor bashing PepsiCo or soft drinks; rather, I am using this situation as an example. Second, I recognize that PepsiCo, as a corporation, is making a business decision in order to maintain their profits. Third, each individual is free to make their own decisions about what to consume or not consume based on their personal beliefs and perspectives.
What I see as the problem here is this: Even with a great deal of thorough research showing that aspartame is safe for human consumption, it is still thought to be unsafe by enough people that a national brand is removing it from their products. The implication of this is that, if comprehensive research is not considered reliable, the credibility of evidence-based practice in science-related fields like healthcare is undermined. Good healthcare (including nutrition) is based on making recommendations and following procedures found to be most effective and appropriate based on the preponderance of evidence available from research. If that evidence is deemed questionable or undependable, providing high-quality nutrition or healthcare services will get a whole lot harder.
As PepsiCo rejects aspartame to stay in the good graces of their consumers, recognize the change for the business decision that it is, rather than as a statement on the safety of aspartame or the trustworthiness of scientific evidence. Make your own decisions about what to consume or not consume, but know that the expert healthcare advice you seek should always be evidence-based.
Please weigh in with your thoughts and let me know what you think in the comments section below!
Ferdman RA. Why Pepsi’s decision to ditch aspartame isn’t good for soda – or science. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/27/why-pepsis-decision-to-ditch-aspartame-isnt-good-for-soda-or-science/. Published April 27, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2015.
American Cancer Society. Aspartame. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/aspartame. Published May 28, 2014. Accessed May 11, 2015.
Novella S. Pepsi removing aspartame. Science-Based Medicine. https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/pepsi-removing-aspartame/. Published April 29, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2015.