As more parents look for ways to cut sugar in their child’s diet, artificial sweeteners can look very appealing – they satisfy that sweet tooth without the added calories or that high sugar craze. However, in reality, artificial sweeteners (also known as non-nutritive sweeteners or NNS) are just imposters.
These types of sweeteners are referred to as NNSs, because they do not provide any nutritional value. Hence – imposter! So, we’re left with the question, should we give our young children fake sugar? Sugar-free alternatives might seem better at first glance, but are they truly better for your child as opposed to the real thing?
Hopefully this discussion will give you the information you need as a parent to make the best decision for you and your family in regards to allowing artificial sweeteners into your child’s diet.
Potential Benefits of Artificial Sweeteners
- Artificial Sweeteners aren’t linked to behavior problems.
- These sugars are not known to cause cancer.
- The FDA regulates the safety of artificial sweeteners.
- They are hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than regular sugar therefore very small amounts are used.
- High consumption of normal sugar causes a sugar spike, but artificial sweeteners do not.
- Non-nutritive sweeteners reduce calorie intake, therefore may help with weight loss or weight maintenance.
- For children* who chew gum, sugar-free chewing gums can help prevent cavities.
Potential Concerns of Artificial Sweeteners
- Artificial Sweeteners do not contain nutrients needed to sustain growth and development.
- Healthy gut bacteria production may be altered with high consumption of artificial sweeteners.
- In the American Society for Nutrition Journal, the effects of sweeteners on gut microbiota were evaluated through experimental studies and clinical trials. For more information visit: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6363527/
- There could be changes in appetite and taste preferences in children.
- The more exposure that young children (ages 1-4) have to artificial sweeteners, the more likely they are to prefer those highly sweet options. Allowing increased consumption of these fake sugars can lead to prolonged challenges of getting your child to eat nutrient dense foods that may not taste as sweet. The take away is this: sugar (whether fake or real) can be addictive.
- Sugar-free is not the same thing as healthy.
The fact of the matter is, children need well-balanced and nutrient-dense meals to nourish their growth and development. In moderation, artificial sweeteners can be an OK substitute. The natural sugars found in fruits can be a much better option in helping sustain our little ones and their development.
Peach Strawberry Yogurt Recipe
- 3 cups of strawberries pureed to 1.5 cups
- 3 cups of peaches pureed to 1.5 cups
- 2/3 cups of non-fat plain Greek yogurt (make sure there is no added sugar)
- In a blender, puree strawberries until smooth and then set aside.
- Clean blender and puree peaches until smooth and also set aside.
- Layer the popsicles as follows in the popsicle mold of your choice: 2 teaspoons of strawberry puree, 2 teaspoons of peach puree, and 1 teaspoons of yogurt. Repeat. Make a fruit puree your last layer.
- Gently tap molds on the counter to make sure the layers settle nicely.
- Freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.
- Yields about 10 popsicles depending on the size of your popsicle mold.
Additional examples of healthier sweeteners include raw honey and date sugar (dehydrated dates that are ground up). Date sugar can be substituted for brown sugar in baking recipes.
As their parent, it’s your responsibility to make an informed decision on whether or not to allow non-nutritive sweeteners in your child’s diet and/or how often. There may be special circumstances where using artificial sweeteners can be a good choice. These instances might include if your child is overweight or has diabetes. Otherwise, there is no reason to consume non-nutritive sweeteners on a regular basis.
*Chewing gum for children under age 4 is a choking hazard.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
American Academy of Pediatrics