Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe For Your Kids?

We look into whether or not artificial sweeteners are safe for your children... and for you

Artificial sweeteners have often been touted as an effective means of combating and preventing issues such as childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes, which are linked with an excessive sugar and calorie intake. Since artificial sweeteners are far sweeter than sugar, very little is needed to sweeten a drink or dessert. However, as much as artificial sweeteners have been promoted as a diet solution, they have also attracted an equal amount of controversy regarding their safety for adults and children alike. And so the question is not so much whether artificial sweeteners are safe for children, but whether they are safe in general for human consumption.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

Much of the controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners has stemmed from the belief that they cause cancer. This belief gained currency after scientific studies on the sweetener saccharin were linked with bladder cancer in laboratory animals. The popular sweetener aspartame was also associated with lymphomas in rats after the consumption of very high doses. However, according to the United States’ National Cancer Institute, there were inconsistencies in the animal studies. And in the case of humans, there has been no clear evidence of an association with cancer through numerous studies for either product. Nevertheless, saccharin has been banned for use in Canada as a food additive since the 1970s, and can only be acquired at pharmacies with a strict warning label attached to it.

Acesulfame-potassium, aspartame and sucralose have been reported as safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women unlike saccharin and cyclamate, which are not recommended for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding according to EatRight Ontario. Nevertheless, some animal studies suggest that sucralose could affect the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut, as the Children’s Hospital of Colorado reports.

A sweetener that is gaining a lot of popularity is stevia, and this is due to the fact that the sweetener is not technically artificial. Stevia is extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant and has not been associated with cancer in humans or any other major health concerns. Stevia also seems to be the only sweetener not associated with the occurrence of Type 2 Diabetes, unlike sugar and artificial sweeteners alike.

Stevia nevertheless is not without controversy. Curtis Eckhert, professor in the environmental health sciences and molecular toxicology department at the University of California at Los Angeles, has argued in favour of wider testing on stevia. He mentions in a Globe and Mail interview that stevia has been associated during lab tests with possible genetic mutations in animals. Nevertheless, his colleague Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest believes that stevia is still safer than its artificial counterparts like aspartame.

The Bottom Line

While artificial sweeteners can help reduce calorie intake and sugar consumption, their long-term safety and effectiveness are still widely debated. Overall the safest bet is to limit the amount of sweetened foods consumed by your family in general regardless of whether they are sweetened naturally or artificially. 

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