Sugar Substitute Controversy

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For many Americans, a cup of joe with a touch of "chemical" sweetness is the only way to start the morning. But just how safe is that little packet of flavor crystals?

Oncologist Dr. Gordan Srkalovic, of Sparrow Hospital says, "We know something could be related to cancer but we're not sure of the correlation."

Aspartame, the main ingredient in Equal and Nutri-Sweet, is in about 20,000 products in your local grocery store, including diet soda, yogurt, and sugar-free Jello. When it first came out 25 years ago there were concerns about an increased risk of cancer, prompting several studies. Last year an Italian study concluded aspartame led to higher rates of lymphoma and leukemia in lab rats.

According to the F.D.A., you'd have to consume 50 miligrams of aspartame to exceed the maximum daily dose. But that involves more than 80 packets of Equal or Nutri-Sweet. And a recent review by European Safety Experts says most aren't at risk, because the amount of aspartame people use is nowhere near the limit. And that's good news for people with sweet teeth.

Dietitian Cheryl Martin, of Ingham Regional, says "If you're a big soda drinker or someone who puts four or five tsp. of sugar in your coffee, that's a lot of empty calories. You're better off using an artificial sweetener. Plus there are alternatives like Splenda if you're concerned."

So if you ever find yourself rolling a buggy down the grocery aisle questioning the safety of the sweeteners on the shelf, you can breathe easy. Because adding aspartame to your cart probably won't do much but put a dent in your wallet.