Get Smart About Sweeteners

Kids love sweets. In fact, one recent study found that they’re hard-wired to prefer sweets from birth. But kids cannot live on cupcakes alone (as much as they might like to), so what can you do to keep your family healthy–but still enjoy treats and desserts? Here’s the lowdown on a few common ingredients:

Sugar comes from sugar beets or sugarcane, but too much leads to tooth decay and obesity. If you use it, limit it. A quick way to visualize how much sugar is in a product: find the total sugar grams on a label and divide by 4. That’s how many teaspoons your kids are eating. It can be more than you think!

Stevia is a calorie-free sweetener that comes from the stevia plant; it’s been used for centuries by native cultures in South America. It’s much sweeter than sugar so you can use less and still get that all-important sweet factor. In fact, with stevia, you can even give kids soda (once considered a parenting no-no). Zevia (, a non-calorie soda sweetened with stevia, comes in 15 flavors, including kids faves like grape, orange, and root beer.

Aspartame is the sugar substitute in most diet sodas. It’s an artificial ingredient that’s been linked to health scares over the years, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest says that people, especially children, should not consume food and drinks sweetened with it.

High Fructose Corn Syrup manufacturers may wish you’d call it corn sugar, but HFCS is not exactly the same as sugar. It’s a chemically altered compound that doesn’t match sugar identically; plus, it contains molecules that aren’t naturally occurring. One recent study suggests that we metabolize HFCS differently than sugar, and many experts recommend that families avoid it altogether.