Pediatrics | Published December 30, 2019

The use of nonnutritive sweeteners by kids

In the November 2019 issue of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement that recommends the amount of nonnutritive sweeteners, or low- or no-calorie sweeteners, be published on nutrition labels. The recommendation is based on the little data that is available about these sweeteners, and aims to help researchers better understand the effects of them on children’s health over time.

Nonnutritive sweeteners include saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-potassium, sucralose, neotame, stevia and monk fruit. These sweeteners are 180 to 20,000 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose) and were first introduced in food products 60 years ago to mimic the taste of sugar without adding calories. Here is what is known about these products:

  • There is conflicting evidence as to whether nonnutritive sweeteners are effective at controlling weight. Short-term studies indicate that the use of these sweeteners may promote small weight loss.
  • Some studies indicate the use of sweeteners may change taste preference or appetite and gut microbiome. This may affect blood sugar levels, leading to weight gain, insulin resistance or diabetes.
  • Manufacturers are not required to list the amount of sweetener used on nutrition labels, making it hard to assess how much of the sweetener kids are ingesting on a daily basis.
  • Most parents aren’t aware of how much of the sweeteners their kids are eating. In one study, only 23percent of parents could identify food products with nonnutritive sweeteners.

Keeping track of how much sugar and other sweeteners your kids eat can be overwhelming. Kids two years old and up should consume less than 25 grams (about six teaspoons) of added sugar per day. Try these tips to reduce sugar and sweetener consumption:

  • Learn to read nutrition labels
  • Choose water and milk over sugary beverages such as soda or juices (including diet or reduced-sugar options)
  • Offer whole fruit options to satisfy a sweet tooth
  • Limit processed or pre-packaged foods

If you have concerns about your child’s sugar consumption or eating habits, talk with his or her pediatrician.