Has your child ever had a no sugar, zero calorie food or drink that was sweetened with an artificial sweetener? As parents we think we are doing the right thing by cutting down on their sugar intake, but some studies suggest links between nonnutritive sweetener (i.e., artificial sweetener) use and changes in appetite and taste preferences, as well as in the gut microbiome, which may affect blood sugar levels and lead to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, diabetes, and weight gain.
Artificial sweeteners are 180 to 20,000 times sweeter than sugar so they can possibly alter the consumer’s taste buds to have a higher tolerance for sweetness and thus crave sweeter and sweeter foods and drinks over time. Fortunately, One study suggests that taste buds can be reset if the individual who has built up a tolerance to sweetness goes a long period of time without consuming any kind of sugar.
What Are Nonnutritive aka Artificial Sweeteners?
Nonnutritive sweeteners are substances used as a substitute for sugars (i.e., sucrose, corn syrup, honey, agave nectar) to sweeten foods, drinks, and other products such as oral care products, energy drinks, diet sodas, and certain medications.
Non-nutritive sweeteners (also called artificial sweeteners) contain few or zero calories or nutrients. They may be derived from plants or herbs, or even sugar itself. They have a greater intensity of sweetness compared with sugar, so smaller quantities are needed for flavoring foods and drinks. Some artificial sweeteners are not metabolized, meaning that they pass through the digestive tract unchanged for the most part.
The eight nonnutritive sweeteners that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
- Aspartame (Equal® or NutraSweet®)
- Acesulfame potassium (Sunett® and Sweet One®)
- Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low®, Sweet Twin® and Sugar Twin®)
- Sucralose (Splenda® and Equal Sucralose)
- Stevia (Truvia®, Stevia in the Raw®, SweetLeaf® Sweet Drops™, Sun Crystals® and PureVia®)
- Luo han guo (Monk fruit extract) (Monk Fruit in the Raw ®)
American Academy of Pediatrics’ Suggestion for Artificial Sweeteners
The American Academy of Pediatric’s (AAP) policy statement “The Use of Nonnutritive Sweeteners in Children” printed in the November 2019 Pediatrics suggests that the amount of these no to low-calorie sweeteners be listed on product labels so families and researchers can better understand how much children are consuming and any possible health effects. The following is a statement made in the published article:
“Looking at the evidence, we found there’s still a lot to learn about the impact of nonnutritive sweeteners on children’s health,” said Carissa Baker-Smith, MD, MPH, FAAP, lead author of the AAP policy statement. “We need more research into the use of nonnutritive sweeteners and the risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes, especially in children. Considering how many children are regularly consuming these products – which have become ubiquitous — we should have a better understanding of how they impact children’s long-term health.”
Since these products are 180 to 20,000 times sweeter than sugar, further research on their effects on children’s health is needed. Parents should be aware that there could potentially be negative health consequences when these artificial sweeteners are consumed in excess. If you have any concerns please speak with your pediatrician at your next office visit.
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