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Neotame: The Sweetener so Small You Won’t Even Know it’s There

May 31

We’ve all heard of aspartame—the artificial sweetener.  You can taste its particular brand of sweetness in your food and you see its name written on labels, often right on the front of a package.  Do you know why it’s there?  It’s labeled on your food’s packaging because the FDA requires it to be there for those people who can’t tolerate one of its ingredients: phenylalanine.  Some companies, however, just list phenylalanine alone on the label.  If you’re familiar with this chemical because you have an intolerance to it, then you recognize the warning; but if you aren’t familiar with this word, then you may not realize that you are ingesting an artificial sweetener.  So, now you know.  End of story, right?

This is where Neotame comes in.  Neotame is another synthetic sweetener developed by Monsanto as its patent for aspartame was running out.  Neotame is made by adding 3-dimethylbutyl (a chemical that the EPA lists as hazardous) to aspartame; Neotame is heat tolerant (so you can bake with it), it is between 7000 and 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar, and 30 times sweeter than aspartame.  Here’s where the problem comes in: Being 30 times sweeter than aspartame means that less is needed to do the same job, therefore, the FDA doesn’t require it to be included on labels.  If an ingredient comprises less than 1% of a product, the FDA does not require that it be listed on labels.  Right now, it’s estimated that Neotame is being used alone or in conjunction with other artificial sweeteners in several hundred food products in the US (some of them even labeled “organic”), and more than likely, you don’t even know it.

Neotame is not yet available for individual purchase, but clearly, it’s a busy bee.  Food manufacturers love it because so little is needed to do the job of sweetening and it’s far cheaper than using table sugar (sucrose) or high-fructose corn syrup.  Opponents of the sweetener point to its origins in the sweetener aspartame and the controversy that goes along with it.  There are many arguments against aspartame (and hence, Neotame) citing medical reasons, but the FDA and more than ninety countries worldwide disagree.  We’ll leave the decision up to you whether to partake or not.  Studies conducted on Neotame are few, and apparently all sponsored by the parent company, so the controversy extends despite the FDA’s assertions that both Neotame and aspartame are safe to eat at the levels currently being consumed in the US.

What do you think?  Do you eat foods containing artificial sweeteners?  Do you think labels should indicate the presence of the sweeteners even if the levels contained in products equals less than 1%?  Brown Bag is committed to serving you food you can trust from local farmers, whenever possible.  When you eat with us, you know what you’re getting.  We want to know:  Does that matter to you?

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