It's Called Water
Cleverly packaged, brightly colored sweet drinks crowd the grocery shelves. With prices that are enticingly cheap, it is easy to stock up on sports beverages, juice drinks, sodas, flavored teas and more. Chocolate and strawberry milk are sugary options that are offered daily in your child’s school cafeteria, along with juice and sparkling juice. Many kids expect to be rewarded with a cooler of icy sweet refreshment following sports practices and games. Unfortunately there are countless daily opportunities for kids to indulge in liquid treats!!
An October 2013 meta - analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition underscores the role that sugar sweetened beverages play in promoting unhealthy weight gain. Even more recently, the World Health Organization (April 30, 2015 e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions) stressed the importance of cutting back on sugar sweetened beverages.
While parents may wish to limit sugary liquids, they often need ideas for what to offer instead. As a pediatric dietitian with the Duke Children’s Healthy Lifestyles Program, I get this question all the time. Wise mama bear, from the Berenstain Bears book, Too Much Junk Food, offers the best possible answer: “It’s called water” she says.
Mama bear is correct. Water remains THE best way to quench thirst. Help your child to normalize plain, unflavored water as a perfectly acceptable beverage. Consider serving frosted glasses of water with meals at home. Adding slices of fruit will “dress up” the water a bit, and is fine to do with meals. Between meals though, it’s NOT a good idea to bathe the teeth in fruit acids. Kids who are allowed to keep spill – proof water bottles with them during the day at school (not surprisingly) drink more water than kids who have to rely on limited water fountain breaks. A discussion with your child’s school might be in order if water is NOT allowed.
An important strategy, is to stop bringing sugary drinks into the home……….or at least cut way back on the amount that finds its way in. Many parents have successfully framed this change NOT as a punishment but as a healthy practice for the whole family. When mom and dad model the water habit for their kids, no one feels they are being “punished”. It is NOT effective for parents to continue to buy soda and sports drinks for themselves while insisting that the kids drink water……..this is a sure way to invite conflict!!
Frequently Asked Questions:
“We recently switched from soda to juice. Isn’t this healthier”?
Soda is heavily processed and essentially offers no nutritional benefit. A 100% fruit juice on the other hand IS a naturally occurring product, which (unlike soda) provides a host of nutrients including vitamin C, potassium and folate (depending on the specific type of juice).HOWEVER…….when it comes to sugar content they are essentially the same.Both pack 6 to 7 teaspoons of sugar in an 8 ounce serving.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of 4 to 8 ounces of 100% fruit juice per day for most kids (4 ounces for preschoolers and up to 12 ounces for active teens).Juice is certainly NOT essential for kids and teens. When kids get juice with school breakfast, purchase a sparkling juice drink from the a la carte lunch line and receive juice again with the after school program snack, they have already exceeded the daily recommendation.So any additional juice from home simply adds to this sugary excess.
“What about sports beverages”?
Sports beverages have ONE specific purpose: to provide hydration and energy and to replace nutrients (electrolytes) that are lost through sweat during vigorous and prolonged exercise, lasting over an hour. Most children and adolescents simply need to consume plain water before, during, and after physical activity to obtain needed hydration. Electrolytes may easily be replenished at the next meal or snack. Sports beverages were never intended to be used as a casual meal time beverage or as a way to simply stay hydrated during the day.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics : “Routine ingestion of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks by children and adolescents should be avoided or restricted, because they can increase the risk of overweight and obesity, as well as dental erosion”.
“I have heard lately that diet drinks and sugar free flavoring packets might not be such a good idea after all. Why not”?
It’s a great question! After all, diet sodas and tea, sugar free drink mixes and artificially sweetened flavor packets seem like the best of both worlds. We get the great flavor of sweet drinks, but without the added sugar.
For starters, substituting artificially sweetened beverages for sugary ones, simply perpetuates the mentality that all drinks must have a flavor…………which makes it a hard sell for parents who are trying to re-positon plain, unadulterated water as the beverage of choice.
Then, there is the matter of dental health. Just as with sugary drinks, acids (such as phosphoric acid and citric acid) are added to diet drinks for flavor. A 2012 review article in the International Journal of Dentistry found acidic beverages to be the main cause of dental erosion (loss of tooth enamel) among children and adolescents.
Research continues to look at the role artificially sweetened beverages may be playing in weight gain and the development of type 2 diabetes. An emerging area of research is looking specifically at how artificial sweeteners may be altering our gut microorganisms and ultimately how this may affect metabolism (Nature, October 2014). Stay tuned as this fascinating story continues to unfold!
“Sometimes we just want something sweet to drink. How often is it OK to allow a sweetened beverage”
There is no “one size fits all” answer here. While water should certainly be the “go to” beverage for the whole family, this doesn’t mean that sugary drinks are never allowed.In the Duke Pediatrics Healthy Lifestyles Program, the recommendation is for “almost none” of the sugary drinks.
Some families have implemented the rule of thumb that when dining out, it’s ok to have a sweet drink, especially if these options are no longer available in the home.Other families have managed to go from drinking a large volume of sugary drinks daily, to only having them two or three times per week. ANY reduction in sweet drinks is a step towards better health.
When sweet drinks ARE consumed, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Enjoy the sweet drink with a meal instead of between meals. The protein, fat and fiber from the meal help to lower the glycemic response (blood sugar spikes are minimized) as compared with flooding the system with sugar on an empty stomach. Also, it is less damaging to the teeth since during meals the saliva is flowing which helps to protect tooth enamel from the acids in both sugary and diet drinks.
Over – dilute when possible. When using sweetened drink powders, try adding less powder and more water than directed. In restaurants, try mixing sweet tea with unsweetened tea.
Consider having refills of water. This is a great opportunity to have it both ways: enjoy a sugary drink of choice but then follow up with re-fills of water.