Got diet milk? In a highly controversial move, the dairy industry wants to market artificially sweetened milk—without any special label to alert consumers.
In a petition filed with the FDA, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) seek to change the definition of “milk” so that chemical sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose can be used as optional ingredients not listed on the product label.
If the petition—originally filed in 2009 and now under consideration by the FDA—is successful, these hidden additives could also be included in 17 other dairy products—including whipping cream, low-fat and non-fat yogurt, eggnog, sweetened condensed milk, sour cream, and half-and-half—without requiring any special labeling.
A Move to Boost Kid Appeal of Milk Products
The dairy industry contends that using artificial sweeteners like aspartame as optional ingredients in milk and other dairy foods without any special labeling would “promote more healthy eating” and boost kid appeal. Currently, milk consumption is dropping among both children and adults.
In part, the petition states:
IDFA and NMPF argue that nutrient content claims such as “reduced calorie” are not attractive to children and maintain that consumers can more easily identify the overall nutritional value of milk products that are flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners if the labels do not include such claims. Further, the petitioners assert that consumers do not recognize milk—including flavored milk—as necessarily containing sugar. Accordingly, the petitioners state that milk flavored with non-nutritive sweeteners should be labeled as milk without further claims so that consumers can “more easily identify its overall nutritional value.”
The goal of the petition is to persuade the FDA to drop a requirement that milk and other dairy products be labeled as “artificially sweetened” if they contain aspartame or other calorie-free sugar substitutes. Last week, the FDA asked the public to submit comments and data about using artificial sweeteners in dairy foods. So far, there is no FDA ruling on the petition.
Currently, dairy producers can label products as “milk” if they are unsweetened or contain sweeteners with calories, such as high-fructose syrup or sugar, according to the Huffington Post. Examples of sweetened dairy products include chocolate or strawberry milk and flavored yogurts.
In addition, aspartame and other chemical sweeteners can currently be used in dairy products as long as they are clearly labeled accordingly.
Health Risks of Diet Drinks and Aspartame
Aspartame is a chemical sweetener that’s widely used in diet soda and other low-cal foods, including yogurt. It’s about 200 times sweeter than sugar and was originally sold under the brand name NutraSweet. At least 90 countries have declared it safe, but several new and recent studies link artificially sweetened drinks (particularly soda) to a wide range of health threats.
While not yet carved in scientific stone, the emerging evidence is disturbing. Here’s a rundown:
- Higher risk for type 2 diabetes. While the link between sugar-laden drinks and diabetes is well-known, a new study by French researchers also finds that sugar-free soft drinks also boost the threat. The study, to be published inAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition, tracked 66,118 women over a period of 14 years. While sipping both diet and regular soda magnified risk, the diet drinkers had higher risk for diabetes. However, this type of study is not designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
- Link with depression. A new study funded by the National Institutes of Health, involving more than 260,000 adults ages 50 to 71, surveyed beverage drinking habits. Ten years later, the participants were asked if they had been diagnosed with depression. Those who reported swilling four or more cans of soda daily were 30 percent more likely to develop depression than those who shunned soda. Overall, risk was higher in people who drank any of the diet beverages studied (soda, iced tea, and fruit drinks), compared to those who sipped the full-calorie versions. Drinking unsweetened coffee, on the other hand, was linked to a 10 percent lower rate of the mood disorder, prompting the researchers to recommend dieting and grabbing a cup of joe.
- Heart Attack and Stroke: Drinking diet sodas daily may increase the risks for heart attack and stroke and other vascular events by 43 percent, but no such threat exists with regular soft drinks or with less frequent consumption of diet soda. These results come from a study including more than 2,500 adults published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine on January 30, 2012. So far, no one knows what it is about diet sodas that could explain the added risk.
- Kidney Trouble: In 2009, researchers at Harvard found that drinking two or more diet sodas daily could lead to a 30 percent drop in a measure of kidney function in women. No accelerated decline was seen in women who drank less than two diet sodas daily. The drop held true even after the researchers accounted for age, high blood pressure, diabetes, and physical activity.
- Preterm Delivery: A Danish study including more than 59,000 women found a link between drinking one or more diet sodas daily and a 38 percent increase in the risk of giving birth to preterm babies; the risk was 78 percent higher among pregnant women who drank four or more diet sodas daily. No such risk was seen with regular soda.
- Weight Gain: Wouldn’t it be ironic if instead of helping you lose weight, diet drinks had the opposite effect? A study at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio found that compared to those who drank no diet sodas, study participants who did had a 70 percent greater increase in waist circumference; worse, drinking two or more diet sodas daily led to ballooning waist circumference that was 500 percent greater than those who drank none. This doesn’t prove that diet soda is to blame since the study was observational—it could be that participants began gaining weight and then started drinking diet sodas.