QUESTION: Doctor: You often say avoid “Added Sugar”. It is bad for a growing child. What is your view about Products made with sugar substitutes? How about Diet Soda? Which sugar substitute is good for my child?
Children generally love sugary foods, and chances are the processed or packaged food your child eats has some amount of added sugar. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently released new guidelines limiting the amount of added sugar considered acceptable for a healthy diet. Per AHA,
- Preschoolers with a daily caloric intake of 1,200 to 1,400 calories shouldn’t consume any more than 170 calories, or about 4 teaspoons, of added sugar a day.
- Children ages 4-8 with a daily caloric intake of 1,600 calories should consume no more than 130 calories, or about 3 teaspoons a day.
- As your child grows into his teen years, his caloric range increases to 1,800 to 2,000 a day, and the maximum amount of added sugar included in his daily diet should be 5 to 8 teaspoons.
However the reality per AHA study is
- children as young as 1-3 years typically consume around 12 teaspoons of sugar a day!!
- By the time a child is 4-8 years old, his sugar consumption skyrockets to an average of 21 teaspoons a day!
Obesity rates tripled in 30 years, and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption among children more than doubled in the last 2 decades of the twentieth century. Many children drink more sugar-sweetened beverages than milk. Sugar-sweetened beverages represent the largest category of daily caloric intake (7%–12%) for many demographic groups. Evidence suggests that increasing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages raises weight and obesity rates.
This is why I recommend against “Added Sugar” in your child’s diet.
Now let’s look at Sugar Substitutes
Sugar substitutes provide sweetness to food without the calories of sugar. The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. It has also approved one natural low-calorie sweetener, stevia. How the human body and brain respond to these sweeteners is very complex. Of the above only Stevia is a natural sweetener. But just because something is natural does not always mean that it is safer. Sugar substitutes are found in most of the “light,” “reduced calorie” or “sugar-free” foods and drinks available today.
As the name says, Sugar substitutes are just as the name says – chemicals masquerading as sugar!
What does research say?:
- Research suggests that Sugar substitutes may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. As a result, we may crave more sweets, tend to choose sweet food over nutritious food, and gain weight.
- Animal studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may be addictive. In studies of rats who were exposed to cocaine, then given a choice between intravenous cocaine or oral saccharine, most chose saccharin.
- Aspartame is also often anecdotally linked to brain disorders based on small animal studies, but human studies have not shown an association.
- A lot of studies show that diet soda is linked with being overweight but there isn’t a clear answer as to why.
Due to limited studies in children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has no official recommendations regarding the use of noncaloric sweeteners.
So the best advice I can give is probably to
- avoid artificial chemicals in general (which is high in processed food);
- limit both regular and diet soda consumption for optimal health, especially for children.