Juice boxes, flavored water, yogurt and even ketchup.
These are all foods commonly consumed by kids that may contain artificial sweeteners. In fact, ingredients like sucralose, aspartame and acesulfame-K are found in a surprising number of foods, Business Insider reports.
Oftentimes, parents don’t even know it’s there.
“Artificial sweeteners are added into your beverages, puddings, gelatins, desserts, candies, syrups and also products defined as ‘no added sugar’ or ‘sugar-free,'” says Erin Dolinski, a clinical dietitian specialist at Beaumont – Royal Oak. “What we always say when we work with our patients is that reading the ingredients is the biggest key.”
But now that you know how prevalent these sweeteners are in today’s foods, should you be concerned? That depends. If you’re worried about a link to cancer, you shouldn’t be, Dolinski says.
“According to the National Cancer Institute and other agencies, there’s no sound scientific evidence that any artificial sweetener causes cancer or other serious health problems,” she points out. “The FDA approves (them) and considers them safe.”
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, consumers can safely enjoy sugar and artificial sweeteners in a healthy diet in moderation and in keeping with some general guidelines, Dolinski explains.
While there are no recommendations about how much artificial sweetener a child should consume in a day, you can look to the Food and Drug Administration’s ADI, or acceptable daily intake, for some perspective.
“The ADI is the amount that one can safely eat over a lifetime without any adverse effect,” she says. “A 40-pound child would need to eat about 24 packets of aspartame or drink four 12-ounce cans of diet soda (per day) to reach that amount.”
According to the FDA, the typical amount used by most consumers is well below the ADI, Dolinski says.
All that said, sweetened foods are a major concern when it comes to planning out a healthy diet for your child.
“Including too many sweetened foods may impede your child’s intake of nutritious foods,” she says. “Some of (the sweetened foods) have no health benefits whatsoever.”
The biggest offender in that category? Soda.
It’s simply not recommended for people of any age, Dolinski says. Plus, new recommendations from the American Heart Association state that children should limit their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks to no more than 8 ounces per week.
“The No. 1 choice of beverage is to consume water,” she recommends.
If your kids miss the bubbly texture of soda, look for carbonated water flavored only with natural ingredients – again, read those labels carefully. You can also make flavored water at home using an infuser with fresh fruit.
To satisfy other “sweet tooth” cravings, consider plain, nonfat Greek yogurt with fresh fruit mixed in. And when you’re out shopping, be especially careful of sugar and other sweeteners in things like kids’ cereal and salad dressings (try the “make your own” packets instead).
“What is out of sight is out of mind,” Dolinski notes. “It all starts with the parents or the caregiver, you do the grocery shopping. (Kids) really do follow what you do.”
Parents can also model a healthy diet, keep conversations about healthy choices as positive as possible and encourage healthy eating habits.
“The children need your help. You are their guidance to develop healthy eating,” she adds. “In addition to physical activity habits for life, healthy food choices are necessary for your child’s growth.”
For more advice on planning a healthy diet for your family, visit choosemyplate.gov.
This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.