Skip to main content
Go to homepage

Print Page

Are Sugar Substitutes Safe for Kids?

What Are Sugar Substitutes?

Sugar substitutes are artificial (fake) sweeteners. Some food makers use sugar substitutes in place of sugar to make foods and drinks taste sweet. These sweeteners don’t have nutrients to help kids grow. Products like diet soda, sports drinks, or yogurts that are made with them may say “sugar-free” or “zero calorie” on the label.

Two common sugar substitutes are aspartame and sucralose. They taste much sweeter than real sugar, so foods and drinks made with them have just a tiny amount. Experts now know that tiny amounts of sugar substitutes are safe for some kids, but only if they eat other foods that give them all the nutrients they need.

How Are Sugar Substitutes Different From Sugar?

Our bodies handle sugar and sugar substitutes in different ways. When we eat sugar, our bodies turn it into energy. But they can’t do this with sugar substitutes. Instead, these pass right through the body.

Are Sugar Substitutes Safe for My Child?

Sugar substitutes are safe for some kids. It depends on a child’s age and if they have any health problems. Here’s a guide:

  • Babies and children younger then 2 years old should never have sugar substitutes. Young children need many nutrients for their brains and bodies to grow well, and sugar substitutes have none.
  • Most kids older than 2 can have sugar substitutes as long as they get enough nutrients from their diet to grow normally. This is called balanced eating. Kids over 2 years can have up to 6–8 ounces of foods or drinks made with sugar substitutes a day.
  • Kids older than 2 who have diabetes can have sugar substitutes if their doctor says it’s OK. Doctors usually prefer that kids with diabetes have drinks made with sugar substitutes because they don’t make blood sugars spike like drinks made with sugar.
  • Kids older than 2 who have PKU shouldn’t have sugar substitutes because their bodies can’t digest them safely.

What’s the Best Drink for My Child?

Kids should drink what’s right for their age:

  • Babies up to 1 year old should drink breast milk or formula. These have all the nutrients babies need to grow.
  • Toddlers 1–2 years old should drink water and whole milk. Whole milk has the right amount of fat to help toddlers’ young brains grow.
  • Kids over 2 years old should drink water, and low-fat or nonfat milk. These are always the best choices.

If you have questions about sugar substitutes, check with your child’s doctor.

Reviewed by: Kathryn Russel, MS, RDN
Date Reviewed: Aug 30, 2023

Lea este articulo en Español

What next?

By using this site, you consent to our use of cookies. To learn more, read our privacy policy.