Not all health drinks are as healthy as they claim to be. Find out why
Kids (and many adults too!) love cultured milk drinks. Some children may have it as a daily pick-me-up while others only get to enjoy it as a special treat. Cultured milk drinks usually taste sweet, but they’re often labelled as “healthy” drinks. So, are they all really healthy, especially for our little ones? Let’s find out.
As parents, one of your top priorities is providing a well-balanced diet for your growing children. There are many healthy beverage offerings in the market today and cultured milk drinks are probably the most popular choice among parents for their children.
When buying these drinks, you trust brands labelled with “light”, “lite”, “no additional sugar” and “zero”. Now, what you may not know is that some of these drinks contain sugar alcohol and intense sweeteners which are unhealthy for children.
Sugar alcohols are sweet carbohydrates that are processed from other sugars. They contain about half the calories of regular sugar and are used as sweeteners in confectionery and some beverages. Food and beverages labelled “sugar-free” or “light/zero” usually have sugar alcohols in them.
The most commonly used sugar alcohols are maltitol and sorbitol.
- Tastes almost 90% as sweet as regular sugar, but with half the calories.
- It is a form of carbohydrate, so although it has fewer calories compared to regular sugar, people with diabetes should be extra cautious as it can cause blood sugar spikes.
- A common ingredient in sugar-free food and drinks such as soft candies, and cultured milk drinks.
- Tastes 60% as sweet as regular sugar, but also with about 60% of the calories.
- Has fewer harmful effects on blood sugar and insulin but may still cause significant digestive distress.
The Health Dangers of Sugar Alcohols and Intense Sweeteners
We might think that sugar substitutes equate to a healthier choice. But parents, be aware that this is not the case.
These artificial sweeteners that act as a substitute for sugar choice can be quite unhealthy. Here’s how:
- Non-nutritive sugar alcohols and intense sweeteners may condition children’s palates to crave for even sweeter food and beverages. This leads to excess calories and unnecessary sugar intake.
- The biggest issue with sugar alcohol is that it causes – and worsens – digestive problems when taken in large amounts.
- Sugar alcohol has a laxative effect and may affect children with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and FODMAP (“Fermentable Oligo, Di, Mono-saccharides and Polyol”) sensitivity. FODMAPs are small carbohydrates that some people cannot fully digest. So they go further into the large intestine, where they are fermented by bacteria. This sends the digestive system into distress, causing gas, bloating and diarrhoea. In children, it can lead to a great amount of discomfort and even pain. Polyol (the “P” in FODMAP) is a sugar alcohol and is one of the six common FODMAPs.
Sugar Substitutes in Our Daily Foods and Beverages: Raise Awareness Together
In the US, food and beverage products that contain sugar alcohols maltitol, sorbitol or mannitol must include a warning label that states “Excessive consumption may have a laxative effect.”
Today, even the Ministry of Health, Singapore advises the public to be cautious with regard to sugar alcohol consumption. According to the latest statement by the Health Promotion Board (HPB), “Consuming sugar alcohols in large amounts can have laxative effects or cause other gastric symptoms.” Read more about it here.
Recognising the health issue, the HPB guidelines now state that all drinks (with or without Healthier Choice Symbol) sweetened with intense sweeteners like acesulfame K, sucralose and aspartame are NOT allowed for sale in schools. Find out more about the guidelines here.
Know: How to Avoid Bad Sugar
Some cultured milk drinks are labelled “light”, “zero-sugar”, “zero calories”, etc. and are marketed as drinks that are “healthy” and “nutritious” for the whole family. But don’t be fooled! These labels mean that they actually contain artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols, which could be really harmful to your children’s health when taken excessively.
Yet at the same time, we don’t want to deprive our children of their favourite drinks. Also, many cultured milk drinks do have health benefits, especially for the gut. So how can we, as parents, strike a balance and choose wisely for our little ones? It doesn’t help that there is a dizzying array of options in the supermarket when it comes to cultured milk drinks.
The trick is to be smart, educated and informed about choosing your food and beverage products. Read product labels and find out more about artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohol. Inform yourself about how these artificial additives can affect your children’s health and share this information with your friends and family, too.
Go with products that are genuine in sugar reduction and without additional sugar substitutes.
This article was published with the permission of theAsianparent Singapore