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Is sugar affecting children's health? continued...

"The reason that we think of it as a problem is because of the big rise in obesity in childhood, and that rise has occurred over the same time period that there's been a major increase in the amount of simple sugar that children consume," Kavey says. Juices, sodas, sweetened cereals, cookies, and candy are common sources of sugar in children's diets.

But other factors -- like spending a lot of sedentary time with computers rather than running around and playing -- may also contribute to childhood obesity.

What about the notion that sugar makes some children hyperactive?

"In my own experience, I know there are some children who are very sensitive to sugar. They really are quite wild after they have sugar," Kavey says. "But that's not proof. The literature on it is not conclusive at all."

Are some types of sugar better than others?

Celebrities and high-profile chefs have touted the benefits of replacing refined white sugar with purportedly more natural, healthier sugars, such as honey, maple syrup, or molasses.

But there's no truth to these common misconceptions, Johnson says. "In terms of something being inherently better about those sweeteners as opposed to table sugar or sucrose -- no." The bottom line: All are simple sugars.

"A calorie of sugar is a calorie of sugar, so whether you're getting it from white sugar or some other type of sweetener, you're still adding empty calories to your diet," Johnson says.

However, there may be one redeeming quality, she says. "Some of those sweeteners -- like maple syrup, molasses, honey -- may have a stronger taste, so you might be able to get the sweetness that you want with less of it, using less calories."

What about substituting artificial sweeteners? Despite public worries that they might cause cancer, "They've been approved as safe by the FDA and I think that they can be a good tool to lower the calories in your diet," Johnson says. "But you need to be careful that it's about the total calories. You always hear about the person who puts the non-nutritive sweetener in their coffee and then has a piece of cheesecake."

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