Government reviewing study linking artificial sweetener with increased cancer risk

For those looking to tame their sweet tooth, there's a tonne of sugar-free, zero-sugar and diet products on offer.

But now, French scientists have identified a possible association between consuming artificial sweeteners and an increased risk of cancer.

There's no shortage of products for the sugar conscious. They're marketed as alternatives for those with a sweet tooth who don't want the consequences.

"The consumption of artificial sweeteners is going up and it seems to be from an increase in soft drinks and cordials and drinks," says Dr Andrea Braakhuis.

Scientists in France analysed the diets of 100,000 adults to see if there's a link between artificial sweeteners and cancer. They adjusted for a range of factors - taking into account different diets, levels of physical activity and medical histories.

They found those who consumed high amounts of artificial sweeteners did have a higher risk of cancer, particularly breast and obesity-related cancer.

"The amount of sweetners that the consumers or the people in this study were consuming were not ridiculously high," said Dr Braakhuis.

The sweeteners of concern are aspartame, ace-K and sucralose, which are found in almost every fizzy drink as 950, 951 and 955.

In New Zealand, there are strict regulations on what's in our food and drink. 

"There's been a load of systematic reviews on aspartame. It's the one most-tested food chemical out there," says nutritionist Nikki Heart.

Heart says New Zealand's Acceptable Daily Intake is calculated at 40mg per kilogram of body weight per day.

"You'd have to drink 15-20 cans of diet soda everyday to get close to that… we're not anywhere near high consumers like they are in other countries."

But the study found even people who had less were still at risk. 

The Ministry of Primary Industries says it's reviewing the study to see if it changes standards here.

So the next time you're reaching for a diet or sugar-free option, take it with a grain of salt - figuratively speaking, that is.