You see this on a range of soft drink labels in New Zealand and often it is alongside CONTAINS CAFFEINE.
We talk about caffeinated beverages being used to keep people awake through out the day. We talk about the sugar content of these drinks as being one of the major medical issues regarding soft drinks, including the so-called “diet range” that includes Sprite, Diet Coke and others. But how much do we know about Aspartame, which is found in phenylalanine?
In 2018, concerned with my growing waistline, I started looking at ways I could turn things around. I cut back a bit on portion sizes, stopped eating generally after 7.30PM at night and started going for aggressive 1 hour walks once a week. After seeing a hypnotherapist in February 2018 who across two sessions a week apart came up with a plan for me. After going through my eating habits she asked me if I was drinking Diet Coke or Coke Zero. I said both and on rare occasions Sprite as well, all three of which contain phenylalanine.
Whilst there Aspartame is approved in over 100 countries, it is true that it has 200x the sweetness of normal sugar. It is though nowhere near the 7,000x that another sweetener called neotame has (Yang, 2010).
I think the single biggest thing we can do to end the obesity crisis in New Zealand is ban aspartame. In the United States it can be found in 6,000 products. I imagine given the propensity of New Zealand to follow American consumer patterns a similarly horrendously large number here probably have it.
This could be complimented by taking potato chips, soft drinks and confectionery out of school canteens and hospital snack vending machines, and replacing them with fruit, filled rolls and water.
I expect that banning aspartame will provoke a reaction from Coca Cola and other manufacturers whose products have aspartame in them. Qing Yang in a 2010 paper published in the Yale Biological Medical Journal however explains how aspartame and other super artificial sweeteners have not contributed to weight loss and how the reverse might actually be true.
Some have pointed out that only those with phenylketonuria need to worry about the hazards of aspartame. They point to it allegedly breaking down in the body. But when aspartame breaks down it breaks down into phenylalanine, aspartic acid and methanol. Perhaps true, but I noted when I looked the European Union Food Safety Authority sheet on aspartame that it ignored weight loss/gain which is one of the key reasons it gets raised as an issue in the first place.
Sugar taxes have been consistently mooted by some researchers and health campaigners, but they face substantial political hurdles. Politicians on the left might support them as a way of dissuading consumers from consuming products with aspartame in it, but those on the right are likely to undo it.
Pragmatically in New Zealand, any sugar tax will probably run into resistance from very obvious quarters. National is not likely to support sugar tax, on ideological grounds of tax not being the answer. A.C.T. will definitely not support such a move and my guess is that in their first term in Government such a measure would be repealed fairly quickly.