Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners

My son likes to drink soft drinks. I allow him one per day. I always buy the caffeine-free variety, but I’m wondering what your opinion is on artificial sweeteners and kids. Which is “less evil,” artificial sweeteners or sugar?

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

In small amounts, neither diet or regular soda is very harmful. But of course, neither has great benefits.

I have no problems with sugar when it comes naturally with fiber such as with fresh fruits. When it comes to soda, you may not want your child to develop a taste for sugary sodas because the amount he consumes may not stay small. Sugar is loaded with calories and it puts stress on the body’s mechanisms for regulating energy levels.

As for artificial sweeteners, the best research on NutraSweet (aspartame) has not shown any conclusive problems. In the body, it breaks down into two amino acids that are naturally a part of the diet. However, the long term effects of drinking diet soda has yet to be determined. Interestingly, a recent study showed an association between diet soda consumption and an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes (Circulation Feb 12, 2008). Although this finding needs to be confirmed by more research, it’s something to think about.

Personally, I prefer water, milk, and flavored waters (i.e. water with pieces of fruit, vegetables or herbs for flavor).

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.

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