14 Foods Kids Love That Are Secretly Filled With Fake Sugar

Oksana Shufrych/Shutterstock

As moms, most of us want to make sure that our kids have a healthy balanced diet that isn't too high in any potentially harmful ingredient -- particularly sugar. Often if there's an option labeled "sugar-free," parents will gravitate toward that item as opposed to its higher-calorie counterpart. But just because a product is marked "sugar-free" doesn't mean it isn't getting its sweetness somewhere. And would we really rather our kids eat fake sugar than the real thing? Because that's what they're doing -- at an alarming rate.


Artificial sweeteners, including aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame-K (Sunett, Sweet One), and saccharin, are found in many of the foods and drinks kids adore. So it's no wonder a concerning new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reveals that the number of children who consume these faux sweeteners increased by almost 200 percent from 1999 to 2012.

Just where are these chemicals hiding and why is this such potentially bad news? 

For starters, while sugar substitutes might offer fewer calories, they're often linked to obesity and diabetes.

Researchers found that over 25 percent of children (up from 9 percent in 1999) reported consuming low-calorie sweeteners (LCSs), according to study author Allison Sylvetsky, assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. About 40 percent of adults consume LCSs, and most consumers reported ingesting fake sugar at least once daily (80 percent of children, 56 percent of adults). Importantly, she added, "Frequency of consumption increased with body weight in adults."

These findings seem to parallel a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics that revealed pregnant women who drank more beverages containing artificial sweeteners were twice as likely to have children who were overweight or obese by their first birthdays, when compared to moms who drank less.

It's one thing to know we're serving our kids artificial sweeteners; it's another to be surprised by how many different snacks and beverages those artificial sweeteners are lurking inside.

As Tory Tedrow, in-house nutritionist for the healthy eating mobile app Sugarchecked, told CafeMom, "Anything labeled sugar-free is probably going to contain artificial sweeteners, so it is better to buy the conventional version and limit the portion size to cut back on sugar intake." 

Let's take a look at some of the kid-friendly items we all have in our fridges, freezers, and pantry right now that contain LCSs without our even realizing it. 

kids foods sugar
Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

Eating & Nutrition nutrition sugar obesity