STEVIA AND NATURAL SWEETENERS: ARE THEY SUITABLE FOR A CHILD’S DIET?

With an increasing awareness about preventing childhood obesity, the idea that sweeteners can help achieve it has become widespread and is a valid option. But are they really suitable for a child’s feeding? In what dose?

Sweeteners: not recommended for children under 3 years old

A sweetener is an additive that is added to food to provide a sweet taste and, in most cases, does not provide much energy. In recent years, its consumption has increased to prevent tooth decay and reduce cases of childhood obesity or diabetes. However, it is not advisable to use sweeteners in food in children aged 1 to 3 years.

The non – nutritive sweeteners (are usually classified into nutritive or non – nutritive or caloric and non – caloric) are the least 30 to 13,000 times sweeter than natural sugar. For this reason, fewer amounts are needed to sweeten the same. They are used mostly in processed foods such as:

  • Baked goods.
  • Sweet.
  • Desserts.
  • Dairy products.

Natural sweeteners

Natural sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are often advertised as the healthiest option for sugar or other sugar substitutes. The World Health Organization recommends reducing the consumption of free sugar (the one we add to our diet) to 25 grams daily (which corresponds to 5% of the daily calories consumed).

  • Honey: Honey contains between 70% and 80% fructose and glucose. It may contain small amounts of bacterial spores that could produce botulinum toxin, so it is not appropriate to offer honey to children under one year.
  • Maple syrup: It is extracted from the trunk of different types of maple. It is usually used as a substitute for honey in vegetarian diets. It is an aqueous solution with sugar content ranging from 70% to 90%.
  • Xylitol: It is slightly lower in calories than sugar and does not promote tooth decay or cause an increase in blood glucose. It is mostly used to sweeten candies, cookies, and sugar-free gum.
  • Natural stevia: The form that is marketed as a natural sweetener is not the plant or the dried leaves. In the European Union, the stevia leaf extract labeled with E960 or steviol glycoside (the scientific name of the sweet compounds found in the leaves of the stevia plant) is marketed. It has a powerful sweetening power, as much as sugar, although with almost no caloric intake.

Contraindications of stevia

The consumption of the Stevia rebaudiana plant is not authorized in the European Union. What we buy is one of the processed and purified extracts: rebaudiana A, called additive E-960. In the US, the FDA only considers steviol glycosides safe and, therefore, they are suitable for consumption.

For the FDA, the acceptable daily intake of these glycosides is 4 milligrams per kilo of body weight. Most of the foods to which stevia has been added are soft drinks, cookies, breakfast cereals, and candies.

In general, natural sweeteners are safe. But are they healthy? No clear advantage for the health of the consumption of this type of product has been demonstrated. Moreover, consuming too much-added sugar, even if they are natural sweeteners, may involve some health problems such as tooth decay and weight gain.

Remember that a balanced diet for the little ones consists mainly of consuming fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. And it is important to insist on the importance of physical exercise and avoid a sedentary lifestyle.

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