Despite Aspartame Warning, Beverage Companies Likely to Stick With It

About eight years ago, in response to customer concerns about possible health risks associated with the artificial sweetener aspartame, PepsiCo decided to remove the ingredient from its popular diet soda.

Sales were a disaster. A year later, aspartame is back in Diet Pepsi.

Currently, the top three ingredients listed in small print on the back of Diet Pepsi cans and bottles, even in competing product Diet Coke, are water, caramel color, and aspartame.

Walk around the supermarket and you’ll find ingredients listed on labels for not just diet sodas, but diet teas, sugar-free gum, sugar-free energy drinks, and diet lemonade drink mixes. By one estimate, thousands of products contain aspartame.

The use of aspartame, better known under the brand name Equal, in food and beverage products has long been under scrutiny. The latest edition was released on Thursday, when the World Health Organization agency declared aspartame could cause cancer and encouraged people who consume large amounts of aspartame-containing beverages to switch to water or other sugar-free beverages. .

But even with many new artificial sweeteners, including plant- and fruit-based artificial sweeteners, Big Food has been unable to quit aspartame, and analysts don’t expect it to do so this time around. not The reason is that this ingredient is the cheapest of sugar substitutes, goes particularly well in drinks and mixes, and people love its taste.

There was also backlash over the urgency of the WHO announcement. The US Food and Drug Administration was quick to denounce it, saying it disagreed with the findings and reiterating its position that aspartame is safe. And the WHO’s Second Committee said a 150-pound person would need to drink more than 12 cans of Diet Coke a day to exceed the safe limit for sweeteners.

Garrett Nelson, a beverage industry executive, said: “Big beverage companies have spent months on contingency plans and have been working on a variety of alternatives, with the goal of matching the taste and quality of their diet beverages as closely as possible to their existing offerings. I’ve tried sweeteners,” he said. At CFRA Research. But he said he was unlikely to change the recipe unless consumer demand dropped significantly based on the WHO report.

“If consumers really stop buying Diet Coke because of this report and sales start to drop, it may be time to move on to Plan B,” Nelson said.

Coca-Cola turned the question over to the industry lobby group, the American Beverage Association. “Aspartame is safe,” the group’s interim president Kevin Keene said in a statement.

PepsiCo did not respond to requests for comment, but in an interview with Bloomberg Markets aired on Thursday, PepsiCo Chief Financial Officer Hugh F. Johnston said he did not expect a strong consumer reaction. rice field.

“In fact, based on the large body of evidence suggesting that aspartame is safe, I do not believe this will pose a significant problem for consumers,” Johnston said.

The WHO agency’s assessment, which deepens consumer confusion over aspartame, is the latest in a series of recent studies highlighting potential risks and questioning the true benefits of artificial sweeteners. There is also a thing.Just a few weeks ago, WHO advised against It claims to use artificial sweeteners for weight management, and said a review of studies had shown no long-term benefits in reducing body fat in children and adults. The review also suggested that sweeteners were associated with his increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

This year, researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study It found that chemicals formed after digesting sucralose, another sweetener, can destroy DNA and cause health problems.

Over the years, food and beverage companies and regulators have typically denounced research that raises questions about artificial sweeteners, blaming them for being flawed, inconclusive, or posing negligible health risks. I’ve been

“A large body of scientific evidence shows that low- and zero-calorie sweeteners are effective and safe options for reducing sugar and calorie consumption,” said about 20 manufacturers and Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council, a lobbying group of suppliers, said. Alternative sweeteners were discussed in an emailed statement Thursday.

In fact, most food and beverage companies using aspartame say it’s cheaper than other alternatives and is 200 times sweeter than sugar, making it very effective in small doses. , reluctant to switch.

“One of the advantages of aspartame is that it’s been made for so long that manufacturers have been very good at improving its cost and processing and getting a better product,” said Vassar University’s professor. Adjunct Professor of Organic Chemistry Glenn Roy said. He has worked for food companies such as NutraSweet, General Foods and PepsiCo for over 30 years.

In addition, the FDA approved aspartame in 1974, providing companies with decades of data and information about what aspartame can and cannot do in their products. For example, it can enhance and extend the flavor of certain fruits such as cherries and oranges, making it a preferred sweetener for beverages and chewing gum. However, aspartame loses its sweetness when heated, making it less desirable in baked and cooked products.

In response to consumer demand, food and beverage companies are launching new sugar-free or low-sugar products, many of which are made with new sweeteners or blends of sweeteners. Each new product undergoes multiple sensory and flavor tests before launch.

But for products that have been around for decades, like diet soda, loyal customers are used to certain flavors, and changes in ingredients can make them dislike them, scientists say. I am warning you.

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