Thursday, February 18, 2010

Consumer Alert: Aspartame

Aspartame (also known to you as Nutrasweet and little blue packets of Equal) is an artificial sweetener used in a variety of products. Most people associate it with diet soft drinks and the little packets for coffee and tea. In fact, it's in a lot of products you might not even think about (certain cereals, yogurt, etc.).

Depending on who you ask, aspartame is either perfectly safe or very dangerous. I will be upfront (as I sit here and type this while drinking a Diet Coke) and say that I don't think it is dangerous per se, although probably there are people who are sensitive to it and may react. And it's probably not good in excess, like pretty much anything else. There's even some evidence that using artificial sweeteners can actually lead to weight gain. But that's not what I'm blogging about today.

A producer of aspartame, Ajinomoto, has rebranded its product as AminoSweet. According to the website, "AminoSweet is made from two amino acids, the building blocks of protein found in many of the foods and drinks we eat every day, such as fish, meat, eggs, cheese and cereals."

I have a problem with the marketing approach here. It's misleading to imply that AminoSweet is somehow a "natural" sweetener because it's "made from two building blocks of protein just like those found naturally in many everyday foods." Is Ajinomoto trying to pull the wool over our eyes? Or do they think we are stupid? We've known for years that aspartame (or Nutrasweet or Equal) is an artificial sweetener. Key word: Artificial. As in, not found in nature.

If you avoid artificial sweeteners for any reason, be sure to read labels carefully. Shady marketing practices like this are sure to multiply as the trend of "natural" products increases.

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