PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Do you give your child sugar or sugar substitutes?

Considerations about calories or safety can go into the decision.

“Often parents ask, what about a sugar substitute? And our answer is because the ones on the market are FDA approved, we would not tell you not to use them, but we would tell you to use them in moderation,” said Children’s Hospital dietitian Ann Condon Meyers.

Sweeteners are man-made or plant-based substances that are many times sweeter than sugar. They’re in diet drinks and other sugar-free foods.

“For example, something like saccharine is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Brand name Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sugar,” Meyers explained. “We can use much smaller amounts, get the same sweetness, without the calories or the carbohydrates or the simple sugar.”

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Very few studies have been done on sweeteners and children. The studies that do exist have been on teens in the context of weight loss, and even then, the outcomes are unclear and can’t completely be pinned to consuming these sugar substitutes.

As for safety, the products have been around for decades.

“We do not, as yet, see any adverse effects in adults. So that’s reassuring,” Meyers continued. “As far as how this will affect our children 50 years from now, that’s an answer we don’t have yet.”

Her advice to parents who ask about giving their kids foods with sweetener instead of sugar?

“If you, in the past, let your child have a soda once a week, for example, then a diet soda once a week seems a reasonable substitute. But if you’re planning on having your child eat many foods that have a sugar substitute in it, then we would say, why so many sweet foods?”

Dr. Maria Simbra