When is nasty truly nasty?

The word nasty is a strong one that tends to elicit an involuntary feeling of discomfort in most of us – and people do say that your gut reaction is the most important.  According to one dictionary “nasty” means:

1.    Very ugly, or unpleasant to see, taste, smell, etc.
2.    Morally bad or improper.
3.    Harmful; painful; severe.
4.    Causing difficulty or danger.
5.    Angry or threatening.

So when a UK Supermarket decided to include Aspartame in its list of “nasties” as part of a marketing campaign it’s no surprise that Ajinomoto, the proud manufacturer of this well known sweetener, was more than a little insulted. They decided to take legal action, the outcome of which shows just how “judgemental” our interpretation of such words can be – even when there is clear evidence to the contrary – proving that gut reaction does indeed triumph over logic.

Despite aspartame being proven completely safe in more tests and studies than most other food ingredients added together, the High Court judge found in favour of the supermarket chain.

The Judge’s ruling stated that describing aspartame free foods as “containing no hidden nasties” did not mean that aspartame was potentially harmful or unhealthy, it was simply trying to convey the message “if you the consumer think that aspartame may be bad for you, or unpleasant to taste or consume, then this product is for you”.

It effectively says that despite the facts, if someone thinks aspartame may be bad for them, their false belief should be supported and encouraged.  Surely this defies logic?

Sadly some people automatically equate “natural” with “nice” and “manufactured” with “nasty”.  Before the manufacture of things like antibiotics and vaccines people died ‘naturally’, albeit horribly, in their millions.

There are also just as many natural nasties as there are goodies out there in foods, which can even have fatal effects.  Here are just a few toxins, naturally present in fruit and vegetables: amygdalin, ipomeamarone, furocoumarins, glycoalkaloids and oxalic acid.  Not to mention the whole range of food poisoning bacteria, also quite natural. And what about those natural food ingredients that contribute to overweight and chronic disease, which again is ultimately fatal? No manufactured “nasties” there.

Unfortunately despite the delicate nuances of the ruling, the general message to consumers is that aspartame is nasty.  This once again reinforces misconceptions based on emotion rather than reason.  I say challenge the nasty name callers with scientific facts and allow consumers the freedom to make their own informed choices.

Categories: Food and Nutrition Events, Food Industry, Food Trends, Nutrition and Health

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2 replies »

  1. It is interesting that you have used examples of ‘natural’ foods that can be deadly – these foods are only deadly when mis-used and abused, eg. over-eating or eating too much of one type of food. They can hardly be compared to Aspartame in this context.

  2. Apologies Samantha – I’ve been having some technical problems and had not spotted your comment until today.
    Though I’m not sure what you’re meaning in your comment.
    Aspartame has been shown to be safe to consume by the general population – even when consumed in relatively high amounts, unlike the naturally occurring toxic compounds in many foods.
    The American Dietetic Association recently undertook a thorough analysis of all published studies on Aspartame, concluding in their evidence based library that the safety data on aspartame (for the general population and specific groups such as children and people with diabetes) is very sound.
    The UK Food Safety Authority are currently recruiting for subjects who report to have an adverse reaction to aspartame (eg headaches) to take part in a randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled trial. It will probably take some time to complete, but if it is adequately powered it will provide further valuable evidence on this sweetener.