Carst and Walker

Woolies ousts aspartame in own foods

Woolworths has announced it has become the first South African retailer to remove aspartame from its foods.

It’s not the only so-called ‘artificial’ sweetener to go, either. Woolworths has also removed the sweeteners saccharin and cyclamate from its own-brand foods. They are being replaced with other sweeteners eg sucralose and/or acesulfame K, sometimes sugar alcohols, depending on the product. 

“Quite a number of our customers have expressed their concern about these sweeteners. They’ve let us know that they don’t want them in their food,” explains Woolworths Food divisional director, Julian Novak.

Novak also points out that the move is in keeping with Woolworths’ Good Food Journey. “Minimising the use of additives in our foods wherever possible is one of our goals,” he explains. “We started by not using MSG and tartrazine several year ago. Last year we also took the step of removing added sugar from our fruit nectars, also in response to concerns among customers. Not only is this is the next logical step — we’re very pleased to say that we’ve been able to do it without having any impact on price.”

Woolworths’ Good Food Journey

This is the name the retailer has given to its ongoing quest to offer “South Africa food that’s better for our customers, better for the environment and better for the people who produce it”. It encompasses everything from not using additives like tartrazine and MSG from its foods, switching to more natural flavourants, and offering more organic and free range choices to caring for the welfare of animals and promoting healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle. Within the last 18 months Woolworths reports it has removed hydrogenated vegetable oils (HVOs) from its fresh prepared food and has removed over 35 tons of salt (based on average annual sales), primarily from its breads, cereals and cold meats, as well as some 79 tons of sugar from its chilled 100% fruit juices and nectars.

What sweeteners are Woolworths removing?
180 to 200 times sweeter than sugar, aspartame is a nutritive sweetener, that is, it is digested by the body and adds energy, but because it is 180 to 200 times sweeter than sugar, only a small amount needs to be used and its caloric contribution is negligible. Aspartame is made from two amino acids and digested just like any other protein. It is permitted for use in most countries.

Based on government research reviews and recommendations from advisory bodies such as the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, aspartame has been found to be safe for human consumption by more than ninety countries worldwide. In 1999, FDA officials described the safety of aspartame as “clear cut” and stated that the product is “one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved.”

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently concluding there was “no need to further review the safety of aspartame” and no reason to revise acceptable daily intakes.

It has long been subject to anecdotal reports and trashing, particularly with on the internet by scaremongers and conspiracy-theorists, mostly from the United States.

Cyclamate is a low-energy sweetener that is 30 times as sweet as sucrose. It is permitted for use in the European Union and in South Africa.

Saccharin has been used as a sweetener for more than 100 years and is approved for use in over 100 countries, including South Africa. 450 to 550 times sweeter than sugar, it is not metabolised by the human body and is therefore considered a non-nutritive sweetener

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