I had a question come to me today about giving kids sugar free foods and wanted to share it and my response with you all.
Q: I never know whether to by sugar free items for my kids or get the real thing. For example, popsicles. Real ones with 6-10grams of sugar in it or sugar free with aspartame, and phenylketonurics w/ phenylalanine. Obviously, sugar free sounds better, but I feel those can have mystery ingredients!!! Please help!!!
A: Great question...unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of "evidence-based" research on the topic as artificial sugars are relatively new in the food industry and their effects are likely more long-term and related to the amount consumed.
However, I do have some knowledge on the topic...so here goes! Aspartame should be avoided completely in kids with a genetic disorder called PKU (phenylketonuria) because they lack the enzyme that comletely breaks the chemical down and the toxins produced will kill them. This disorder is tested for at birth (or shortly after) as these kids will die if they are exposed to food containing phenalynine, which are plentiful in our modern food supply. By the sounds of it, you probably don't need to worry about PKU as you would know if they had it by now.
As for non-PKU kids, I would say you want to limit the amount of artificial sugars, preservatives, hormones, etc, in their foods as we aren't sure what the long term effects are. That's not to say that sugar is great for them either, but if given enough play time to run around every day (approx 1 hour at least), your kids should be able to burn off the calories they consume. Some people blame neurologic problems, cancer, migraines and food allergies on artificial food ingredients, although there is little to no concrete evidence to back up the claims. (This doesn't mean they aren't true, though. We just haven't proven it yet. We have, however, pretty much dispelled the myth that aspartame causes cancer when consumed at normal doses (as opposed to the enormous doses the lab rats recieved in the intial studies)).
Another reason why kids (and parents) should avoid artificial sweeteners is that they "train" our tastebuds to crave sweetness 10 times stronger than regular sugar. This increases people's sweet cravings and leads some people to overeat things that aren't as sweet (in order to make up for the super sweetness factor)...not good for the waistline or the way our bodies metabolize sugars.
That being said, my advice is to limit the bad stuff (ie, artificial sugars, hormones, preservatives, coloring, etc), stick to the basics (eat lots of fruits and veggies & limit soda and even juices, instead give milk and water) and keep up about an hour of exercise per day (for everyone!) and your kids should grow up to be healthy and strong. You can try more natural sweeteners like agave nectar and substitute carob for chocolate if you're really concerned about sugars.
Dr. Maltz earned a Medical Degree and Master in Public Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX. She completed a combined Internal and Preventive Medicine Residency at UTMB in June, 2011. She then completed a 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT, during which she simultaneously underwent an intensive 1000-hour curriculum created by The University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Program founded by Dr. Andrew Weil.