With about one-third of U.S. children experiencing overweight and obesity, along with serious chronic health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure, it's natural for a parent to be concerned about every single ingredient that goes into a child's mouth. Sucralose is a low-calorie artificial sweetener that adults have turned to help them win the battle of the bulge and stave off sugar-related health problems, but you should think twice before giving it to children say pediatric medical experts like William Sears and NYU Langone Medical Center. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared sucralose, better known as Splenda, safe for all people, including children, it's not an ideal source of nutrition.
The Facts about Sucralose
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that's derived from sugar molecules. It's made by replacing three hydrogen-oxygen groups with three chlorine atoms. The result is a sweetener estimated to be 600 times sweeter than regular table sugar. Part of the appeal of sucralose is that it's a near zero-calorie substance -- although that claim has been disputed. The makers of Splenda say it passes through your body without being broken down, therefore, you don't absorb any calories. However, noted pediatrician William Sears said studies have shown that between 20 and 30 percent of ingested Splenda is metabolized, meaning you do get some, albeit trivial, calories from sucralose.
The makers of Splenda say sucralose is safe for children and tout it as a great way to cut down on the sugar children consume every day. For example, you can use it to bake sweet treats and thereby cut calories and reduced the amount of added sugar in your child's diet. The manufacturer also suggests that sprinkling it on fruit and in cereal will help children develop a taste for these healthy foods. As a precaution, however, the manufacturer says you should always consult your child's doctor or a registered dietitian for all questions about your child's diet and weight.
Safe but Not Necessarily Good for You
Sears, however, isn't convinced sucralose is good for kids. Considering its relatively recent entry on the market, sucralose doesn't have a body of research on its long-term effects. He also says that even though much of sucralose isn't absorbed, it still travels through the gut and "hangs around ... for many hours." This may pose a threat to kids intestinal health. Noted, but often controversial osteopathic doctor Joseph Mercola, is even more adamant that sucralose isn't a good idea for anyone. His research has uncovered effects like gastrointestinal problems, seizures, migraines and other allergic reactions. He also suggests that the lobbying power of sweetener manufacturers has suppressed research on the effects of the substance.
Empty vs. Nutrient-Dense Calories
NYU's Langone Medical Center advises caution when considering sucralose in your child's diet. A growing body needs calories. Substituting nutritious carbohydrates that support your child's growth with non-nutritive sweeteners "is not a good idea," the center says. If you allow your child to fill up on empty foods, he or she may not want to eat a nutritious ones. By giving your child whole foods, you are also giving him the vitamins and minerals that come with them. Overconsuming low-calorie foods and sugar substitutes can set your child up for a lifetime of less-than-healthy eating habits.
Consider the Palate
Young children ought to have a diversity of tastes, preferring sweet and non-sweet alike, says Sears. Moreover, he says it's a good ideal to allow children to learn and appreciate the natural, unenhanced taste of all foods. He said babies who are fed only natural foods often grow up to shun the "chemical taste" of artificial sweeteners. In contrast, children regularly fed artificially sweetened foods will develop a distaste for natural food.
Alas, few children survive to adulthood without falling madly in love with one sweet treat or another. No expert wants you to completely withhold sugar from your children. When you're concerned about the extra calories and extra sugar your child is consuming, consider some substitutes. Sears, for example, recommends using cinnamon as a fruit topping or in morning oatmeal. In addition he says a favorite dessert can be plain yogurt mixed with fresh fruit like blueberries.