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Are sugar substitutes hiding in your kids’ foods?

Sugar labels not required to include amounts of non-nutritive sweeteners

SAN ANTONIO – If you’re trying to limit how much sugar your kids eat, you may be feeding them sugar substitutes and not even know it.

They’re called non-nutritive sweeteners and Consumer Reports says new sugar labeling requirements may mean the substitutes are creeping into kid-friendly foods.

Sue Malat does her best to avoid added sugars. When she bakes muffins, she uses mashed bananas and dark chocolate to sweeten them. However, keeping an eye on sugars in packaged foods can be trickier.

“I look at every label,” she said. “Sugar could be sneaky and sometimes it might say on the front ‘low sugar,' but there really is some extra, unnatural stuff in there that I don’t really want my kids to have.”

Nutrition labels now are required to list not only how much sugar is in something, but how much added sugar is in there too.

That could create new complications for parents, according to Consumer Reports.

“The concern is to make that ‘added sugars’ number look more appealing to consumers. Manufacturers might take out some of the regular sugar and add in non-nutritive sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame,” said Amy Keating, Consumer Reports’ nutritionist.

Less sugar is better, especially for kids who should have less than 25 grams per day. Eating too much added sugar early in life puts children at risk for problems like obesity, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.

But, Consumer Reports says it’s also not clear that simply consuming non-nutritive sweeteners instead is any healthier for kids.

“There’s a lot of research in terms of non-nutritive sweeteners and how they affect the body, from appetite to blood glucose control to weight loss," Keating said. “But, we just don’t know how these sweeteners will affect kids in the long term.”

One reason that it’s difficult to study the long-term effects is that manufacturers are not required to include the amount of sugar substitutes on labels.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for more transparency.

Consumer Reports encourages parents to read labels and look for both added sugars and non-nutritive sweeteners. Better yet, they say choose fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid sugary drinks for kids.

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