What Are Artificial Sweeteners Doing to Our Kids?
A new study suggests that when we give young children drinks and foods made with artificial sweeteners, their less mature physiology results in higher levels of by-products from those sweeteners circulating for a while.
Artificial sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame have been studied for many decades, and deemed safe, but recently were found to be ‘active substances that impact metabolism.” Prior to these new studies, the sweeteners were classified as “inert” meaning having no impact. Despite the FDA position on artificial sweeteners, there are still concerns regarding long term health impact. Consumer demands for low sugar and no sugar foods and beverages have driven the food and beverage industries to use artificial sweeteners as a main replacement for sugar. Consumers believe that “zero-calorie” sweeteners are the key to weight loss. Paradoxically, some studies have shown just the opposite.
This new study aimed to examine just how much artificial sweetener is absorbed into the bloodstream by children and adults after drinking a can of diet soda. The soda contained sucralose and acesulfame-potassium. The researchers had adult subjects drink different doses of sucralose with and without acesulfame-potassium, mixed in diet soda, seltzer and plain water. They had children drink the same mixtures.
Results showed that when given the same mixture, children had double the concentrations of plasma sucralose after drinking a twelve ounce can of diet soda compared to adults. Previous research showed plasma levels of this sweetener in women’s breast milk after they consumed drink or food sweetened with the sucralose. And since infants have significantly less ability to clear substances from their bloodstream through their kidneys (lower glomerular filtration rates due to less mature kidneys), they would likely have even higher levels than the children in this study.
These earlier exposures to very sweet artificial sweeteners may affect a child’s future taste preferences, dietary choices and metabolic rate. The higher levels of artificial sweetener byproducts may also make them more vulnerable to the intense flavors of artificial sweeteners.
There were variable plasma levels among the adults suggesting that some people absorb lower levels of the sweeteners while others absorb significantly higher levels. The researchers feel that more large study efforts are needed to clarify the health implications of daily use of artificial sweeteners in different age groups.
A good rule for parents is to avoid introducing your children to regular or artificially sweetened sodas and drinks. Water, low fat milk and unsweetened teas should be the main beverage choices offered to young children.