Blog Directory - Blogged foodliterate: What Could Be Sweeter? Part 3

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What Could Be Sweeter? Part 3

Welcome to part three of the series on FDA approved, high-intensity sweeteners. This week's sweetener is Neotame. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that this may be the first time you've heard of it. It is relatively new and is just finding its way into the products you purchase.

Neotame is a sibling of aspartame; its chemical name is (N-[N-(3,3-dimethylbutyl)-L-α-aspartyl]-L-phenylalanine 1-methyl ester). Whooo - that's a mouthfull. Why-oh-why did I give you the chemical name, which is something you probably can't pronounce, certainly can't remember and definitely will never use? Well, it is because its name "neotame" comes from its chemical structure. That (3,3-dimethylbutyl) is a neohexyl group; three branches of carbon atoms each with three hydrogen atoms (CH3). Like its older brother aspartame, neotame is also comprised of the two amino acids phenylalanine and aspartic acid. But the 3,3-dimethylbutyl attached to the aspartic acid portion of the molecule makes a big difference in the two sweeteners. The enzymes in your body responsible for the breakdown of peptides (peptidases) can't get past this part of the molecule to pull the two amino acids apart. So unlike aspartame, neotame is safe for PKU sufferers due to the limited availability of the phenylalanine.

Although the amino acids in neotame metabolize differently than aspartame, the methyl ester is still metabolized into methanol. I hope you learned from reading the post about aspartame that the amount of methanol produced from metabolizing tomato and orange juice is about 200 times greater that what you'd get from drinking a beverage containing neotame. The FDA gave the green light to neotame in 2002 for general use as a sweet and flavor enhancer in foods and beverages. It is 8000, yes 8000, times sweeter than sugar. That means it is used in ridiculously small amounts and doesn't contribute any calories. To put this in some perspective, you could replace 4409.25 pounds of sugar with just 0.55 pounds of neotame and get the same level of sweetness. Or to put it another way, a soft drink would normally contain sugar at 9.0-12.0% of the beverage; to keep the same sweetness, you only need 0.0011-0.0017% of neotame.

This product was tested, like all food additives, prior to its approval and was found perfectly safe and did not accumulate in the body even at levels that would equal consuming 50,000 cans of soda every day of your life. (You'd die from the caffeine in that quantity of soda long before you'd need to worry about the neotame!) That study was performed on animals, so for those who would prefer their data on humans no problem - human studies were conducted with a consumption equivalent of six liters of soda consumed every day and still no negative effects were shown. (And I pray that there is no one out there really drinking three 2-liters of soda every day.) More importantly perhaps, is the study done with Type-2 diabetics, which showed that there was no rise in glucose concentrations in their blood plasma, so neotame is a safe sweetener for diabetic use.

So why would product developers decide to use neotame? Well, besides the obvious cost savings due to its really low usage levels, neotame can enhance, modify and mask off-flavors. This means that chewing gum will keep its flavor and sweetness longer and that products enriched with vitamins/minerals and or soy proteins won't taste as funky even if the neotame is used at levels too low to provide sweetness (called sub-sweetening). It is also pretty heat stable so it can be used in baked goods, and is non-cariogenic so it will probably find its way in to candies, gums and lozenges. Right now you can find it in Tang drink mixes, Country Time Lite Lemonade drink mixes and Atkins shakes.

That leaves us two more FDA approved sweeteners still to cover: saccharin and sucralose. You may be surprised that there is more to saccharin than you think you know, so make sure you check back in next week!

No comments: