When it comes to sugar substitutes, parents have a lot of questions―especially as more low-calorie food and drinks come on the market.
In fact, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number of foods and beverages made with nonnutritive (no- or low-calorie) sweeteners has quadrupled in recent years. In addition to all the diet soda and zero calorie products, nonnutritive sweeteners are also used in a wide variety of reduced sugar or no-sugar-added school lunchbox favorites like jelly and jams, yogurt, pudding, and fruit cups.
Frequently Asked Questions: Nonnutritive Sweeteners & Too Much Added Sugar in Kids' Diets
Is there an acceptable amount of sweeteners kids can eat or drink daily?
- The FDA sets an
acceptable daily intake for approved products people eat or drink, based on body weight. The limit is set above what researchers think would usually be consumed. For example, a 40-pound child would have to drink four 12-ounce cans of diet soda every day to reach the limit, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Products often contain different combinations of nonnutritive sweeteners, which reduces the risk of consuming more than the limit for each individually.
How do I know how much nonnutritive sweetener is in a product?
- Right now, it takes some guesswork. Manufacturers list nonnutritive sweeteners among ingredients, but they aren't required to say how much each product contains. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
advocates for the inclusion of nonnutritive sweeteners on all food labels; parents have a right to know what they are feeding their families.
How many different no- and low-calorie sweeteners are there?
- There are 8 nonnutritive sweeteners currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These "high intensity" sweeteners, which are between 180 and 20,000 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose).
Examples of products it is used in:
Diet sodas, "low sugar" or "reduced sugar" jellies and jams, cookies, chewing gum, yogurt.
Sugar-free gelatin, diet sodas, flavored drink mixes, reduced-calorie fruit juice, energy drinks, breakfast cereals, sugar-free ice cream.
Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K)
Diet shake mixes, sugar-free hard candies, no-sugar-added fruit cups, electrolyte replacement drinks, diet sodas, baked goods, salad dressings.
Diet sodas energy drinks, flavored drink mixes, sports drinks, sugar-free puddings and gelatins, no-sugar-added ketchup.
Flavored fruit drinks, protein shakes, chewing gum
Stevia (steviol glycosides from leaves of stevia plant)
Protein shakes, diet sodas and flavored waters, vitamin-enriched flavored drinks.
Luo han guo (extracts of Siraitia grosvenorii Swingle fruit, also called monk fruit)
Monk Fruit in the Raw
Coffee and protein beverages, yogurt, frozen desserts, teas.
No brand name yet
Approved in 2014, it is beginning to be used in products such as sports drinks.
Is it true artificial sweeteners cause cancer?
- While early animal studies raised concerns about possible
cancer links from consuming large amounts of some artificial sweeteners,
no studies have found a link between use of these sweeteners and cancer in humans. Similarly, despite some concerns raised, there is no scientific evidence showing aspartame is tied to attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, birth defects, or lupus.
What are the negative health effects of sweeteners on children?
- Recent research suggests possible links between nonnutritive sweeteners and changes in appetite and taste preferences in children. This, in turn, could affect weight and health. Other research is looking into whether these sweeteners cause changes in the gut microbiome―which is made up of "friendly" bacteria--and may affect blood sugar levels and lead to
metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
Can nonnutritive sweeteners help with weight-loss?
- Parents often believe "zero-calorie" sweeteners are the key to weight loss. Most studies show swapping nonnutritive sweeteners for sugar-sweetened foods and beverages can help reduce weight gain or lead to small amounts of weight loss in children. However, most of these studies only looked at short-term results; other studies have linked nonnutritive sweetener use with weight gain.
Remember: If you have questions about your child's diet, talk with your pediatrician.