In my opinion...YES! Here's why...(from an excerpt from my hospital's nutrition newsletter. Go SHS!)
"Sugar is considered a form of empty, unnecessary calories in the diet. Despite this, the consumption of sugar has tripled worldwide in the past 50 years. Recent scientific evidence believes that fructose, a dietary sugar often added to commercial foods and beverages, may contribute to liver toxicity as well as a multitude of other chronic diseases. The primary forms in which fructose is added to processed foods are high fructose corn syrup and sucrose. The use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has caused a lot of controversy, but Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a recent interview on “60 Minutes” states that the use of any added sugars in processed foods are equally toxic. Sugar contributes to all of the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome, a group of diseases that increase the risk for Coronary Artery Disease, Stroke and type 2 Diabetes, such as Hypertension, High Triglycerides, and Insulin Resistance. Many public health professionals are now placing added sugars in the same category as alcohol and tobacco in regards to its negative health effects and high costs on society. Metabolic syndrome is estimated to cost the U.S. $150 billion in health-care resources annually. Research also suggests that sugar contains dependence-producing properties in humans, acting on the brain to encourage increased sugar intake.
According to the USDA, it is estimated that approximately 16% of American’s total daily calories come from added sugars with the primary source being sugary beverages and grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies ,etc). Of course, a little sugar in an overall balanced diet is not a concern, but what is “a little”? Currently, the American Heart Association recommends that women have no more than 100 calories per day of added sugars (approximately 6 teaspoons) and men no more than 150 calories per day (9 teaspoons). Children should have no more than 4 teaspoons of added sugars a day. A 20 fl. oz. bottle of Coca Cola (the size most often sold in vending machines) contains almost 10 teaspoons of sugar; a bottle of Snapple Lemon Ice Tea contains 11.5 teaspoons. Both beverages exceed the recommended daily amount for all Americans. This is the reason why some health experts are encouraging the U.S. to begin taxing any processed foods that contain added sugars, similar to the use of taxing alcohol and tobacco products. Canada and some European countries already require additional taxes on some sweetened food products. Whether you agree with the idea to tax foods with added sugars or not, reducing added sugar intake in your own diet is a healthy move. See below for some tips on removing excess sugar from the diet.
Source: Lustig, RH, Schmidt LA, Brindis CD. Public Health: The toxic truth about sugar. Nature. 2012;482: 27-29.
Tips to Cut Back on Added Sugars:
Source: Today Health: MSNBC.com."
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.