Walk through the grocery store or watch commercials during a children’s television program, and you’ll see a variety of reduced-sugar foods now being marketed towards kids. With childhood obesity and diabetes on the rise, this may seem beneficial – but think again. Many of these products contain artificial (or alternative) sweeteners, also referred to as sugar substitutes. Some that don’t have added sweeteners may not actually be much lower in sugar than the original version, and they tend to contain more calories.
Identifying Artificial Sweeteners
It is difficult to know which foods contain artificial sweeteners. The only way to be sure is to check the ingredients list on the food label. Names of artificial sweeteners and their common brand names include: Sucralose (Splenda), Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), Acesulfame-Potassium (Sunette), and Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low).
Reduced-Sugar Items Marketed to Kids: Not Always “Healthier”
- Reduced Sugar Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal contains sucralose. It has 110 calories and 2 grams of sugar per serving compared to 130 calories and 10 grams of sugar in the original version.
- Frosted Flakes Reduced Sugar Cereal has no artificial sweetener, but sugar remains the second ingredient. It contains 10 calories more per serving than the regular variety, with 8 grams of sugar versus 11 grams.
- Froot Loops Reduced Sugar Cereal does not contain artificial sweetener, but sugar is the second ingredient. It has an additional 10 calories per serving compared to the original, and 10 grams of sugar as opposed to 12 grams.
- Lower Sugar Maple and Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal has sucralose, 120 calories and 4 grams of sugar per one (34 gram) packet. The original contains 160 calories and 13 grams of sugar per one (43 gram) packet. Although calories and sugar may be significantly lower in the lower-sugar version, consider the difference in packet size. Sugar is the second ingredient in both types.
- Quaker Chewy 25% Less Sugar Granola Bars (Chocolate Chip Flavor) contain sucralose, 100 calories, and 5 grams of sugar. The regular variety has the same amount of calories, 7 grams of sugar, and less fat (by 0.5 gram).
- Minute Maid Just 10 Fruit Punch only has 10 calories and 2 grams of sugar, but it’s loaded with artificial sweeteners acesulfame potassium and sucralose.
- Capri Sun Roarin’ Waters contains 35 calories and 9 grams of sugar – half of that in original Capri Sun – but also contains sucralose.
Why are Artificially-Sweetened Foods Inappropriate for Kids?
Whether the original or reduced-sugar version, these items taste very sweet. It is unhealthy for children to get into the habit of regularly consuming extremely sweet foods. Sweet treats should be reserved for dessert after a healthy meal has been eaten, and for special occasions. Children should not be consistently eating sweet cereals, snacks, drinks, or other foods.
In general, regular ingestion of sugar substitutes is not recommended for the average child. Although research has shown they are probably not harmful, artificial sweeteners are not meant to be consumed on a normal basis by kids. They are only appropriate for children with diabetes or a severe weight problem and under the supervision of a physician or registered dietitian.