Posts Tagged ‘ artificial sweeteners ’

Should Kids Have Artificial Sweeteners?

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Artificial sweeteners are a tricky topic. As a dietitian, I’m taught to weigh the evidence: The FDA says they’re safe, and scientific research is mixed on whether they help or hurt (and the internet is rife with rumors that they cause everything from migraines to cancer). As a mom, sometimes I also have to go with my gut—and my gut tells me that artificial sweeteners just aren’t good for kids.

Here are four reasons I’m wary of them:

They’re often found in “treat” foods and drinks, like candy, soda, ice cream, and fruit drinks that shouldn’t have a major place in the diet anyway. Instead of seeking out faux-sweetened versions of these products and serving them regularly, I’d rather give my kids the real deal—but less frequently.

They may stoke the appetite for a more sweetness. Artificially sweetened foods and drinks usually have fewer calories and sugar, but they may also trigger more cravings for sweets. Even worse, when kids are used to everything being sweet, less sweet foods like fresh vegetables and fruit—and beverages like plain water and plain milk—just might lose their appeal.

They may mess with health. Some past studies have found a higher risk of metabolic syndrome and a higher BMI in diet soda drinkers. In a recent study, mice fed artificial sweeteners developed glucose intolerance, which can increase the risk for diabetes. The researchers say that’s because the sweeteners actually changed the kind of bacteria in the gut. Though the research isn’t definitive, it’s enough to make me extra cautious.

They’re fake. Kids are already overloaded with fake additives, including the artificial food dyes, flavors, and chemical preservatives so often found in foods and drinks marketed to children. Kids should be eating fewer fake ingredients, not more of them.

If you want to avoid artificial sweeteners, be sure to carefully read ingredient lists. Products that claim “Low in Sugar” or “Reduced Sugar” on their packages may actually contain one or more faux sweeteners. Watch out for the ingredients “sucralose”, “aspartame”, “acesulfame potassium”, and “saccharin”.

So should these sweeteners ever have a place in a child’s diet? Maybe, especially as a short-term tool for children (and adults) with diabetes who need help lowering their blood sugar. But ultimately, I think the smartest approach for everyone is to reduce the amount of all sweetened foods and drinks in the diet, whether they’re made with sugar or saccharin.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

Image: Artificial sweetener via Shutterstock

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Saying No to Artificially-Sweetened Milk

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

In a move that has many health advocates including registered dietitians and nutritionists and bloggers cheering on the sidelines, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) took a notable stand against a recent request by the dairy industry.

A few months ago, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the definition—known as the standard of identity—of milk and milk products. They asked the FDA to allow milk and milk products to have artificial sweeteners like aspartame, or “any safe and suitable” sweetener added to them without having to disclose such additions on front-of-package food labels.

To justify their position, the IDFA and NMPF argued that providing lower-calorie flavored milk products—something many school-aged children enjoy—would help them consume a more healthful diet and reduce childhood obesity.

In a press release, the AND urged the FDA to reject the petition and to “keep milk milk.” The Academy suggested that if the change is made, “consumers would need to read ingredients list on milk and milk products and learn to recognize non-nutritive sweeteners by their scientific name to know if they’re included in the product.” Current Academy President Ethan A. Bergman, cited in the release, also said there’s a lack of evidence to substantiate the IDFA and NMPF claims about how a change like this would benefit children and their diets.

I love milk and always have. A few years ago, I served as a spokesperson for the Got Milk? campaign. I have also given talks to the community and professionals alike on behalf of the dairy industry. I would have never accepted these opportunities if I didn’t drink milk myself, feed it to my children (which I do, daily), or believe in the many virtues of milk.

An eight-ounce cup or box of low-fat or nonfat milk has 83 and 102 calories, respectively. It also packs in a good or excellent source of nine essential nutrients that help kids grow and develop optimally. These include calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus—critical for healthy bones and teeth; protein, important for building and repairing muscles; vitamin A, important for healthy skin, vision, and immunity; riboflavin, which helps turn food into energy; niacin, important for the function of enzymes (proteins that speed up chemical reactions in the body); and vitamin B12, which shuttles oxygen to working muscles.

But should we push flavored milk on children? Of course I like to encourage parents to first offer plain, low-fat or nonfat milk to their children—to expose them to a nutrient-rich beverage without added sugars. As it is, children over-consume sweets that put their added sugar intake at red flag levels. Too much added sugar in the diet also leaves less room—calorie-wise—for more nutritious fare like naturally sweet fruit, whole grains, beans and lean protein foods.

But for children who like flavored milk and/or won’t drink plain milk, having it allows them to reap the many nutritional benefits milk provides. As long as they think of flavored milk as milk plus a cookie, and cut back on nutrient-poor sweet treats elsewhere, children can consume flavored milk as part of a well-balanced and healthful diet.

But offering milk flavored with artificial sweeteners is where I draw the line. I see no need to replace the sugar in flavored milk with artificial sweeteners. Why do children need even more exposure to these substances? Although having some may be safe for most when moderately consumed, why provide even more opportunity for children to consume them—especially questionable non-nutritive sweeteners like aspartame that the Centers for Science in the Public Interest urges us to avoid. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Image of happy smiling child drinking chocolate milk via Shutterstock.

What’s your opinion?


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