Peek at the label of your favorite foods, and you’ll likely spot several artificial sweeteners on the ingredient lists. Some of the most common sugar substitutes, such as saccharin and sorbitol, have made headlines for possible cancer and health risks. What is the real connection between artificial sweeteners and cancer, and should you be wary?

What Are Artificial Sweeteners?

Also known as sugar substitutes, artificial sweeteners and synthetic food substances replace sugar in various food and beverage applications. They’re also exponentially sweeter than sugar, allowing food manufacturers to use small amounts while achieving the same results. One product, Advantame, is 20,000 times sweeter than table sugar.

You’ll recognize the names of the most common artificial sweeteners from your favorite snack foods and drinks.

  • Sucralose
  • Aspartame
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin
  • Acesulfame potassium
  • Xylitol

Artificial sweeteners have fewer calories than sugar but are non-nutritive, providing no nutritional value. While they contribute fewer calories, sugar substitutes are widely used in many processed snack foods and beverages, most notably diet soft drinks, sports drinks and fruit flavored juices.

Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Cancer?

There is little to no evidence that artificial sweeteners cause cancer. Based on the recommended safe intake of additives like aspartame, individuals would have to drink roughly 14 12oz cans of diet soda to exceed the safe limit.

There is evidence that a high intake of sweet and ultraprocessed foods can increase the risk of certain types of cancer. Drink carbonated soda and other sweetened foods in moderation as a part of a healthy, balanced diet.

How Artificial Sweeteners Are Regulated

Sugar substitutes are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are classified as food additives. The FDA’s evaluation of food sweeteners, particularly aspartame, conflicts with international conclusions on the safety of these artificial ingredients. In 2023, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives labeled aspartame “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The FDA has not changed its guidance on aspartame, nor has the European Food Safety Authority.

Be Proactive; Make Less Cancer A Priority

Families can prioritize their health and lower cancer risk by taking a proactive approach to their diet and exercise. Commit to staying active, eat healthily and make regular medical care a part of your household’s to-do list.