One month ago, big news hit the sweeteners world: In an effort to counteract slumping milk sales by school children (who are turning to other, low-calorie options), the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation are petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to remove the label declaration of aspartame in reduced-calorie milk.
Currently, if aspartame were to be swapped for sugar in, say, chocolate milk, the beverage would no longer meet the FDA's technical definition of milk.
Some school districts have banned flavored milk because of its high-calorie content. And some studies show that if you take chocolate milk out of schools, milk consumption declines.
Aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal) is one of five artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA. The other four are: Acesulfame potassium (Sunett); Sucralose (Splenda); D-Tagatose (Sugaree); and Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low).
There are other alternative high-intensity sweeteners that come from nature and are not artificial, most notably monk fruit and stevia. The FDA is seeking public comment on whether they can appropriately be blended with milk as well.
What do you think about the proposal? You have less than 30 days to make your voice heard!
● More than 90,000 people have joined a new online petition organized by SumOfUS.org, a consumer advocacy group, opposing the diary industry's petition.
● The public has been invited to submit data, information and comments about aspartame, stevia or other sweeteners in milk. The 90-day comment period will end on May 21, 2013.
Although the FDA has long defended aspartame as a "safe and suitable" sweetener, a recent Yale University study directly challenges the claim that aspartame can reduce obesity. In fact, the study found the opposite —that consumption contributes to Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Former McGill University researcher Dana Small specializes in the neuropsychology of flavour and feeding at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. Artificial sweeteners have a couple of problematic effects, she told CBS News. Sugar substitutes such as sucralose and aspartame are more intensely sweet than sugar and may rewire taste receptors so less sweet, healthier foods aren't as enjoyable, shifting preferences to higher calorie, sweeter foods, she said.
Artificial sweeteners may also interfere with brain chemistry and hormones that regulate appetite and satiety. For millennia, sweet taste signalled the arrival of calories. But that's no longer the case with artificial sweeteners.
"The sweet taste is no longer signalling energy and so the body adapts," Small said. "It's no longer going to release insulin when it senses sweet, because sweet now is not such a good predictor of the arrival of energy."
Want to learn more? This is a small part of the Engredea Monograph: Sweeteners Edition. Click here, for more information!