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Touted to be one of the “most studied food additives in the human food supply”, aspartame, once widely considered safe for consumption under restricted amounts, is now likely to be labelled a carcinogen. The artificial sweetener — among the ingredients of several low-calorie foods, drinks and chewing gums — has come under the scrutiny of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organisation, which is likely to declare aspartame “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, later this month. Dr David Chandy, consultant endocrinology at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, seconds Fernando’s assertions when stating that plant-based stevia is a “safer alternative”, and also warns against concluding that foods labeled as “unsweetened” are, in fact, healthy. “When it comes to tackling obesity, several factors come into play. Many artificially sweetened foods will have high amounts of fat in the form of creams, or other ingredients. Food items may be sugar-free but can still have a high calorific count. Most studies have not found any benefit of non-nutritive sweeteners. So, it is advisable to have simple, unprocessed foods, instead of sugar-free or sweetened food. Calling a food sugar-free is just a dot in the bigger picture. In simple terms, follow the habits that our grandparents did.”