The truth behind the buzz about this controversial sweetener.
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When it comes to the effects of sweeteners on children’s behavior, there will always be a chasm between what’s reported in clinical trials and what’s reported at a 6-year-old’s birthday party. “Ask any parent at that party, and they’ll tell you the kids are bouncing off the walls from all the sugar in the soda, cake and candy,” says Keith Ayoob, Ed.D., R.D., a pediatric nutritionist and an associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “But the reality is that they’re 6-year-olds at a party. It’s situational, not due to the sweets.”
Among the dozens of studies over the past few decades that have looked at the effects of sugars, Ayoob says, none have been able to show that sugar of any kind causes or aggravates behavior problems, including Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The idea that HFCS affects kids differently than table sugar hasn’t been studied but it’s not likely, he says, “since [the sweeteners’] chemical compositions are virtually the same.”
Roseanne Schnoll, Ph.D., R.D., an associate professor of health and nutrition sciences at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, agrees that HFCS and sugar are similar enough that “as far as kids’ behavior is concerned it doesn’t really matter [which] kids are getting.” But she doesn’t think the case is closed when it comes to sweeteners and behavior. Schnoll says that many studies that have exonerated the sweet stuff observed kids after giving them only 13 to 15 teaspoons of sugar—little more than what’s in a 12-ounce can of soda—and notes that, today, some kids consume the equivalent of 50 teaspoons a day. Both Ayoob and Schnoll advise minimizing all added sugars in kids’ diets, to help prevent “empty” calories from adding up and displacing other, healthier foods.