Well, people have mixed feeling about artificial sweeteners. Some think they are God’s gift to an obese and increasingly diabetic nation. Others think they are chemicals that are bound to wreak havoc on the human body, especially with greedy companies and the Food and Drug Administration unleashing them on the American public without enough testing or data to really know for sure. And if you go raw dog conspiracy, some people even think they are capable of mind control and all sorts of drama… but we’re not going to get into all of that. The focus of this article is aspartame, one of the oldest and most marketed artificial sweeteners.
Aspartame is good ‘ole Sweet’N’Low and Equal’s major ingredient. It was the way to go until so-called “natural” artificial sweeteners like Splenda (a.k.a. sucralose) came along. And in our organic and natural craze today, you see things like agave nectar and stevia extract making the rounds. Aspartame probably has the worst reputation of the bunch, although, like everything, there is a report for whatever way you wish to believe. Like eggs, almonds, or red meat, whether aspartame is rotting your insides out depends largely on the day of the week and what article you are reading at the time. However, I think we can all at least agree that if something has aspartame in it, it’s reasonable to expect that it must be listed on the label.
The International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation, heavy hitters in their field, are trying to get the FDA to say it’s okay for them to add aspartame to milk and other dairy products. Honestly, they can do that already. The holdup is that they want the FDA to approve their ability to add aspartame without providing said information on the label.
I know, it sounds bonkers crazy. And yet, the FDA already allows the milk industry to add high fructose corn syrup and sugar to milk without having to indicate it. They do have to show the full caloric content on the label, but they can add these, classified as “nutritive sweeteners” by our health watchdogs at the FDA, in whatever amounts they choose without indicating it in the ingredients. Now, they want the same latitude with aspartame and other artificial sweeteners. And for what reason, you ask? Good question. They say because it will promote healthy eating among children and combat obesity. So, apparently, the idea is that children will drink milk (which like aspartame and eggs, goes back and forth on the good or bad list weekly) because it tastes good (thanks to artificial sweeteners) and then get more of the nutritional benefits because of it. Even though research on milk is inconclusive. A lot of scientists and nutritionists are quick to point out that humans are the only mammals to continue to drink milk into adulthood.
Now, we’re not trying to throw mud on the reputation of milk. We’re just pointing out that it’s reputation as a healthy thing for kids to drink is a little deceiving. After all, there’s plenty of fat in whole milk, and consequently, it tends to taste the best and be the one that children prefer. However, the main nutritional benefit of milk is not natural at all. We as a society long ago realized the need for more vitamin D in our diets, and milk is fortified with it. Vitamin D is the “sunshine vitamin” and our society more and more shuns getting out in the good old fashioned sunshine, leading many children and adults alike to be deficient in a very important vitamin that provides a host of benefits to the body. Remember that, though. The main reason milk is good for you is because of what is added to it.
In any case, it’s hard to imagine that there is a real good reason the FDA should approve the inclusion of aspartame unbeknownst to consumers. Of course, if it does, I guess we’ll never know for sure. To drink or not to drink, that is the question?