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Ingredient briefing: aspartame.

An update from NutraSweet Information Centre

When ingredients are successful it's easy to take them for granted. The launch of aspartame by NutraSweet AG in 1983 revolutionised the European market for sugar-free products by allowing consumers to enjoy the great taste of sugar without the calories. The intervening years have seen aspartame grow to become a very important ingredient to the food industry internationally - and not just in sugar-free products. The ingredient's unique sugar-like taste profile means that it is now found in a very wide range of food and drink products throughout the world. The following update provides some key facts and the latest information about aspartame to users, and non-users, of the ingredient.

Formulation Facts

Aspartame is the only intense sweetener which tastes like sugar

Studies over many years have shown that consumers love the taste of sugar (sucrose). Aspartame is the only intense sweetening ingredient which can provide this sugar-like sweet taste. In fact taste tests have proven that many consumers cannot distinguish between sugar and aspartame (in iso-sweet water samples for example).

Aspartame enhances fruit flavours.

The ingredient has been shown to beneficially enhance fruit flavours - a fact which is of great advantage in formulation of some soft drinks and fruit pulps for use in yoghurts.

Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar - so 200kg of sugar can be replaced by 1kg of aspartame. This provides manufacturers with significant opportunities to optimise carbohydrate and calorie content. Products formulated using sugar and aspartame are often considered to have a better flavour profile than those formulated with sugar alone.

There is synergy between aspartame and other sweetening ingredients.

Using a combination of sweetening ingredients can enhance the sweetening effect compared with use of the ingredients alone. Such combinations can provide opportunities for optimising not only the taste profile but also the cost of formulation. There are significant synergies between aspartame and sugar and between aspartame and acesulfame-K, for example.

Aspartame can improve taste profiles.

Use of aspartame in combination with other intense sweeteners can help to overcome their metallic or bitter taste profiles.

Formulation with aspartame is possible in a wide range of food systems.

Good food and drink formulation requires experience and know-how - the NutraSweet team can help you to devise the right formulation using aspartame

Health Forum

The 1998 Health Survey for England conducted by the Department of Health reported that 61% of men and 52% of women are overweight. And 16% of men and 180% of women are classed as clinically obese! This is not a phenomenon confined to the UK but a challenge for health throughout the western world, It is also a significant opportunity for food producers who can contribute to a well-balanced diet through clever food formulation which delivers a good nutritional profile but, importantly, excellent taste.

Use of aspartame can make a significant contribution to food and drink products with a better nutritional profile. Not all formulations need to be sugar-free to obtain a benefit; replacing just some of the sugar can make a significant difference. Similarly, a combination of aspartame and inulin can replace fat in dairy and frozen dessert formulations.

Dental health, including among young people, is a continuing concern despite significant improvements achieved in recent years. Aspartame is tooth-friendly because it reduces the intake of fermentable carbohydrate - a key factor in tooth decay. This non-cariogenic quality makes it ideal for use in chewing gums and sugar-free confectionery - markets which are growing rapidly.

One of the major barriers to achieving weight maintenance is so-called empty calories and those extra snacks which we really don't need but continue to eat or drink. Work by a team at the University of Burgundy has shown that drinks before or during a meal do not, unfortunately, effect or reduce the appetite or how much one eats during a meal. Substituting lower or no calorie drinks for full calorie variants can, however, reduce the number of calories consumed throughout the day. (Beridot-Therond et al., Short-term Effects of the Flavour of Drinks on Ingestive Behaviours in Man, Appetite, 1998,31, 67-81).

Aspartame - the science

Aspartame brings nothing new to the diet Aspartame is a dipeptide composed of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. These amino acids occur widely in everyday foods such as meat, fish, eggs and some vegetables.

Aspartame is digested to its component parts When we eat products containing aspartame it is rapidly and completely digested in the gut to its constituent amino acids and and a small amount of methanol. These components are found in many foods which form part of the normal diet and are metabolised by the human body in just the same way as they would be had they come from any other food source. In addition, because the levels of aspartame used are so low, food sweetened with aspartame contributes a relatively small amount of the aspartic acid, phenylalanine or methanol consumed. One 115g hamburger, for example, contains about 26 times as much aspartic acid as a can of carbonated soft drink sweetened only with aspartame, a 220ml glass of milk contains 3.5 times as much phenylalanine as an aspartame sweetened soft drink. A small banana contains the same amount of methanol.

Aspartame does not enter the blood stream The metabolism of aspartame is very well understood through research studies in humans. The ingredient is digested completely to its component parts. Furthermore, the body cannot distinguish between the components of aspartame and the same components derived from any other source. The aspartame molecule cannot, therefore, have any adverse effect on the body's organs.

Aspartame is probably one of the most thoroughly tested ingredients in our food supply. More than 200 independent studies underline its safety.

Safety R&t Regulatory Approval

Leading scientific and health authorities throughout the world have approved aspartame for use in foods and beverages. These include the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the WHO and the FAO, the European Unions Scientific Committee for Food and more than 100 regulatory authorities internationally.

The confidence which consumers and industry can have in aspartame is reflected in its high Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) which in the EU is set at 40 mg/kg for aspartame, by far the highest for any approved intense sweetener.

The US Food & Drug Administration has given aspartame Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) status with no upper limits on its use in almost any food application.

Furthermore, aspartame, with a sweetness potency of 200 times that of sucrose, is the only intense sweetener with an ADI high enough to allow it to be used as the sole sweetener in soft drinks sweetened to the equivalent of 10 Brix. All other sweeteners need to be blended to reach an acceptable sweetness level and to keep beneath their ADI's.

Regulatory authorities continue to endorse the safety of aspartame. The most recent endorsement was issued by the United Kingdoms Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The full text can be found at www.maff.gov.uk/food/aspp991.htm

Ask Your Pharmacist

Aspartame is well established as an ingredient in the food and beverage industry. It is also used widely in pharmaceutical products. The sweet sugar-like taste can mask the unpleasant taste of some pharmaceutical active ingredients - but, unlike sugar, aspartame is non-cariogenic.

Some Market Facts

* More than 40% of all sweetness used in soft drinks in the UK comes from aspartame.

* Before the launch of NutraSweet, low calorie soft drinks accounted for less than 10% of the total UK market. Now the low calorie share is more than 40% -- of a much larger market.

* Low and no calorie formulations account for half of all retail cola sales in the UK.

* In Eastern Europe and in the Nordic countries the market for chewing gum is almost entirely sugar-free -- and throughout Europe sugar-free is the preferred variant.
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Publication:Food Trade Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 1, 2000
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