Why am I Against Energy Drinks for Kids?

Most of the press that I received after I sent last month’s newsletter from Build Healthy Kids® to elementary school children warning about the risks of too much liquid sugar in their diet and the potential danger of energy drinks in particular was positive.  I did however get some backlash about sticking my nose in a person’s first amendment rights.

This made me smile because for the last 20 years, on July 4th to be exact, I have fought about freedom of choice for our health.  I was asked to speak at a congressional hearing in the early 1990’s because the powers that be at that time didn’t think that the general public could handle having access to information regarding holistic medicine (known back then as alternative medicine). To make a long story short, I was given two weeks to live from a cancer diagnosis and I wanted to pursue holistic means. Getting access to solid information was tough and I am here almost 20 years later saying that it worked; my choice for how I wanted to heal worked.  Fast forward to today and I have the same urge and desire to bring information to the public so that they can make the best decision for themselves and their children.

The following 7 issues are why I want there to be an age limit established now in order to purchase energy drinks; especially while the FDA investigates the claims below further:

  1. The adverse events reported to the FDA that have allegedly been related to certain energy drinks. Here are some examples below or go to http://www.fda.gov/Food/NewsEvents/ucm328536.htm to look for yourself.
    1. Monster Energy Drink (2/4/04 to 10/11/12): abnormal heart rate, convulsion, 5 deaths and 4 heart attacks, 5 life threatening hospitalizations, another 15 hospitalizations
    2. Red Bull (1/29/04 to 5/4/12): cardiac disorder, abnormal heart rate, 1 heart attack, 2 life threatening visits to healthcare practitioner, plus 4 hospitalizations
    3. 5 Hour Energy (6/22/05 to 10/22/12): convulsions, abnormal heart rate, deafness, renal failure, 13 deaths and 11 heart attacks
    4. Rockstar (1/3/06 to 9/13/12): abnormal heart rate, disability from a stroke, nausea and vomiting
    5. The suspicious deaths surrounding energy drinks.  I personally was in touch with 4 parents whose children died after drinking anywhere from ½ can to 3 cans of energy drinks and they are certainly convinced these drinks had something to do with their child’s death.
      1. Brian (15y): 1 free sample of RedBull; died later that day
      2. Anais (14y): 1 Monster Energy Drink 2 days in a row; had a known minor heart condition; died several days later
      3. Drew (19y) a regular energy drink consumer; drank ½ can Nitrous Monster Energy Drink for the first time; died later that day
      4. Sara (16y): 3 pulses with alcohol; died later that night
      5. Sailor (17y): in coma for 5 days after drinking 2 large NOS drinks. He survived and wants kids to know “it is not worth the risk”.
      6. The number of emergency department visits involving energy drinks doubled from 10,068 visits in 2007 to 20,783 visits in 2011. In 2011, more than half of energy drink-related ED visits involved energy drinks only (58 percent). (The DAWN Report)
      7. The FDA considers caffeine a drug, plus the amount of caffeine in these drinks is too high for kids. The daily maximum for caffeine is 100mg for teens or 2.5 mg/kg body weight, whichever is the lower amount.  Most drinks have a non-resealable top and thus they are often consumed per bottle not per serving. In each can there is more than the maximum amount allowed for children (160 mg in a 16oz can).  Soda is capped at 71 mg per 12 oz can, these energy drinks are not capped with the amount of caffeine that they can contain. Even the youngest are effected as a significant number of calls to poison control over energy drinks are for kids under 6 years of age.
      8. Young children can and are buying these drinks, as young as four and five according to my investigations.
      9. Our trusted experts that have nothing to gain financially have told kids to stay away from heavily caffeinated drinks. The official position of the American Academy of Pediatrics is “Energy drinks pose potential health risks because of the stimulants they contain, and should never be consumed by children or adolescents”. It really doesn’t get clearer than that. Do we need to say any more or pour millions of dollars into “proving” these drinks are harmful to kids?  I do not think so.
      10. What else besides caffeine that is in these drinks:
        1. Nitrous Oxide (Nitrous Monster drinks)
        2. Guarana: this is considered herbal speed in the holistic community. The caffeine in guarana is processed differently than the caffeine in coffee beans; it also has these 2 stimulants theophylline and theobromine which are chemicals similar to caffeine
        3. Panax Ginseng: is likely unsafe in children and infants; is not to be used with caffeine (Medline Plus from the National Institute of Health)
        4. Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus Senticosus); might lower blood sugar and slow blood clotting (Medline Plus)
        5. Carnitine: newest research suggests it may increase risk of heart disease (NY Times 4/8/13)
        6. Taurine: an amino acid thought to enhance caffeine’s effect; it has similar effects on heart muscle contractions as caffeine. Not studied sufficiently in the amounts present in energy drinks, especially in children.
        7. Glucuronolactone: The amount of this present in energy drinks is over two times the amount present in the rest of the diet.  No safety data is available for this amount consumed on a regular or acute basis. It is not studied sufficiently in the amounts present in energy drinks, especially in children.

Take any of the 7 reasons listed above and they point to “use caution”, not allow our children to continue to buy and consume these drinks.  It is time for local officials to step in and prohibit the sale of these drinks in their jurisdiction, while the FDA does its job investigating how dangerous these drinks really are.

Want to sign a petition?  Go here: http://www.change.org/petitions/manufacturers-of-energy-drinks-stop-advertising-energy-drinks-to-children


Choose It!

Even though you may know what you should eat, that doesnt mean you are going to make the healthy choice all the time. Well, the same is true for kids; we all need encouragement to make the less desirable choice, right? Why would I choose carrots when I can have a cookie? If you look back only a hundred or so years you find that around the table, mom and dad were telling their kids to eat up.  The environment back then was one that supported eating the food that was put in front of us; whether or not that was based on health or financial matters.

I am currently doing research on the Build Healthy Kids program in an elementary school in CT.  What I am finding is that many kids know what they should eat: ask a kindergartener how much of their plate should be made up of vegetables and many will say “the whole thing”.  While I am doing the research, I no sooner hear the correct answers that I turn and see the young student eating fruit roll ups, cookie dippers and chips, with no vegetable in sight.

We all need a little nudge to make the healthier choices, which is why Choose It! was created.  This 2 minute mini-lecture/motivational speech works really well with children who have limited attention spans. 2 minutes before lunchtime is over I stand up and present the Choose It! board.  I go over 4 choices based on the monthly theme.  During ‘treat’ month I compared two apple doughnuts from Dunkin Donuts; one had 2 tsp sugar and the other 12 tsp (1/4 cup)!  I also showed how much was in the Snapple drink they had available; sales went down the next day for Snapple and they were still down weeks later.  At the end of the 2 minute informational and motivational “show”  the students left pumping their fists and yelling “milk and water”. All it takes is a board or props; the information to compare the food and beverage products and a person who can motivate kids. Contact me if you are interested in learning more at DrDeb@buildhealthykids.com

Turn 1 Roast into 3 Meals

As a cook, when I plan a meal I first select the protein source and then figure out what I want to do with it.  It can be what I found on sale that day or what I have in the freezer. The protein is the star of the show but there are many more actors on stage; lots of vegetables and whole grains. Here is how I took one roasted chicken and made meals for 3 days plus I had a gallon of chicken broth on hand to use in future recipes and to make soup. When I did the math I saved more on having to buy the chicken broth ($12.00) than I did when I bought the chicken ($8.00); I guess you could say I made money:)

Day one, roast a chicken (or if you are stressed for time buy a roasted bird at the grocery store).  Serve with two types of vegetables and a grain (roasted veggies and rice). For a family of four, you only need to serve ½ of the chicken because even though protein is the star, the focus of a healthy plate is the vegetables (1/2 the plate). A deck of cards is about 3 ounces and that is the serving size for adults, depending on the age of your child you would serve less [ go here for serving sizes http://www.buildhealthykids.com/servingsizes.html

Day two, cut the meat off of the bone leaving a small amount on the bone for making stock.  The meat you get off the bone should be enough for making quesadillas, creamed chicken, home made pizza or great sandwiches. Here is half the creamed chicken I was able to make.  The trick is I add so many vegetables that the dish is now enough for 2 more meals.  I added steamed sweet potatoes, carrots, asparagus and peas to a white cream sauce with mushroom and onions.  I served it over toasted whole grain bread.

Day 3 (or the night of day 2 if you are not too tired)  take the chicken and put in a large pot with enough water to just about cover it; bring to a boil and simmer for 1 hour; cool and pick off the meat.  I have over 1 gallon of rich chicken broth that I am going to use to make soup.  If I am stressed for time or my family is sick of chicken, I will just freeze the stock and make the soup on another day. By day 3 my family is sick of chicken so I saved the rest of my creamed chicken for the next day and served pasta tonight for dinner.

The formula for making meat last longer is to add 4 times the amount of vegetables every day you serve it.

A Lesson in Parenting From Chocolate

On New Years Eve I brought out the fondue pot.  If there ever was a recipe for fun, this is it: add one fondue pot, dark melted chocolate, fruit, and friends. Everyone young and old has so much fun dipping, loosing the occasional banana in the chocolate sauce and trying to find it dripping in the silky, melted wonder of chocolate.

While reheating the chocolate fondue at my friends house this New Years Eve I learned a valuable lesson and I think it has a wider meaning for all of us parents out there.  My chocolate was doing great until I added some flavoring to it.  The moment I added 2 tablespoons of an orange flavoring the entire pot of chocolate seized up. Yup, seized up is the technical word for what happened; it went from pourable consistency to one large ball of solid chocolate immediately.

You see chocolate is very temperamental and does not like anything added to it that isn’t at the same temperature.  I immediately looked up on Epicurious how to remedy my mistake. I read that I was “foolhardy” to even attempt to add anything to chocolate that was colder than the chocolate. Foolhardy is exactly how I felt but I certainly didn’t need to be reminded of it in front of my friends.  There was one possible rescue option given so my gracious hostess and I gave it a try. We warmed up heavy cream and slowly added it back to the chocolate mixture until it was the right dipping consistency. I was lucky, disaster was averted.

How many of us as parents try to get our children to make a change too quickly? We get tired of having to constantly encourage them to drink their milk or eat their vegetables.  Many of us lose it on occasion and yell eat your broccoli, or hurry up with your dinner only to be met with increased resistance. Our children seize up if we don’t work with them at their speed too;  just like with chocolate, we need to meet their requirements.  If your child’s diet is not all it needs to be to give him or her a fighting chance of abundant health than follow the Build Healthy Kids program where we take one small step at a time. Join our Live Group Coaching Calls


Do We Send Our Troops Our Halloween Loot?

As my kids get all excited to dress up and pretend to be someone or something that they are not for Halloween, I can’t help but cringe at the thought of all that candy coming into my house.  You would think that my first concern would be for my two boys, age 4 and 10 but it is not. I am afraid for me! You see I am a sugar addict.

In fact I just wrote a book on sugar addiction and kids so I know all the statistics and scary facts that would make Halloween seem like a tea party.  Our children are eating their weight in sugar each year and adults are doing no better with an average intake of 140 to 150 pounds of added sugar each year. How is that for frightening?

As I looked into methods of getting rid of my kids’ loot before I can get into it, I came across an initiative to send our troops oversee leftover Halloween candy: it is part of Operation Gratitude. At first I was appalled. How could we be sending our soldiers this unhealthy food, full of sugar that will wreck havoc on their health? When I put on my nutrition scientist hat, it is clear that this is indeed a very bad idea.

But when I settled down and thought of my own struggles with sugar, I came up with an entirely different answer.  As I thought about the real reason I wrote the book on sugar, my response changed.  My goal for my boys and other children is to bring them up in an environment where candy is an OK thing in moderation but needing it, well that is unacceptable to me.

As a girl I grew up with a father who was both an alcoholic and an ex-marine. I do not think I could have survived such a stressful childhood without sugar by my side.  It was my best friend and companion.  I turned to sugar for comfort and for an escape of my everyday reality at home.

Candy immediately made me feel better and connected.  It only lasted a brief moment before the crash came, but those few precious moments each day were what carried me through my childhood. I turned to candy for an escape and I ended up reaching for sugar anytime my life got stressful.  Today I see it for what it really is: my drug of choice.

So if our troops need a little escape and a rush of pleasure who am I to deny them that?  They are putting their life on the line for me; the least I can do is send them some lovin’ in a sweet form.  When they get back home, I’ll be to there help them in any way I can especially if that means helping them to get off of sugar.


Don’t Judge a Tomato by its Shape and Other Life Lessons

I am hooked on heirloom tomatoes.  I recently started buying them because I was intrigued with how really great they smelled; just like a home grown tomato.  Their shape and color was a little weird for me which is why I shied away from them for so long.  I am not used to yellow tomatoes and the brownish purple ones, well they are just too weird for me to approach; or so I thought.

I grew up with a large vegetable garden in our backyard and spent many hours weeding, so I know what a home grown tomato should look, smell and taste like. Ours were all round and red and they tasted great. Compare that to today when the majority of tomatoes in the grocery store have little to no smell or taste but oh how perfectly red and round they are. What happened? Stores and distributors that sell vegetables noticed that people only buy tomatoes that are perfectly round and red, so they only bought from the farms the variety of tomato that was the best looking and not necessarily the best tasting.  The farmers’ only give us what we buy/want and I guess what we want is predictability, familiarity, and the status quo.

Isn’t that the way we approach life and people? We are more comfortable with our own “type” and assume that those that are perfectly put together have a great life and those that have lumps and bumps; well they won’t be as interesting. We may not approach someone because of the way they look on the outside, or enter a situation where we are unfamiliar and haven’t done it before.

Let’s take a lesson from the tomato and bite into the weirdest looking heirloom that you can find.  You will be amazed at how delicious and satisfying the experience will be. Maybe then you will have the courage to go after that new job, approach that interesting person, or just shake up your life by doing what you always dream of. Don’t judge a tomato by its shape or color and let the flavors of life burst forth.


Don’t Blame it on the Dads

The rates of autism have reached an all time high.  One in eighty eight children have some form of autism says a recent government report.  That is insane! Sure some of the increase is due to the fact that we are getting better at diagnosing autism but that is not the whole story.  Parents and researchers have been scrambling to find the reason so many kids are afflicted with this disorder.  The most recent finding is that a child is at higher risk of developing autism if their dad is over the age of 35 when they were conceived.
What concerns me the most over this recent finding is that I see and hear people taking a collective sigh of relief.  “Oh, OK ,its because of older dads.” I don’t think we can rest easy here.  I believe that this generation of kids have reached the tipping point.  Their little bodies are saying ENOUGH!  You can not load me up with dozens of vaccines when my immune system is not even fully developed, eat a diet full of processed junk food or produce with pesticides, breath polluted air and drink water with contaminants without thinking and believing that it is all collectively doing something to my DNA. OK so they maybe wouldn’t be that articulate but I am speaking for them.
As a ‘future parent’,what you eat, breath and surround yourself with does effect the DNA that you pass on to make your baby and I don’t mean just the time around conception but the months and years leading up to that magic moment.  Until recently, scientists and doctors used to think that you could not influence your genetic makeup.  If you had a gene that said you are at a higher risk of developing a certain cancer, the thinking was there was nothing you could do to stop it.  We know a lot more now. What you eat can turn off and on some genes. Really!  How cool is that.  So perhaps the reason babies are at risk when their dads are older is that the collection of chemicals, pesticides, and toxins have built up in their system so much that it effected the DNA in their sperm.
Babies are the most vulnerable of all humans.  As such, they will be the first to show signs of distress, illness and symptoms of a society that has become so toxic that it changes our genetic expression.  As parents, or “wanna be” parents the food we choose to eat can have a profound impact on our offspring. Let’s make healthy choices not only for ourselves but for future generations.

Kids in the Kitchen

I do not have many memories of when I was 4 years old but one stands out in my mind like it was yesterday.  I was at the kitchen table “cooking” while mom made dinner. I mixed milk and peas in a cereal bowl with some other ingredients that I don’t recall. I was so excited that I created my own recipe and was beaming with pride when I showed it to my mother.  She took one look at my creation and immediately took it away and placed it on top of the refrigerator. I was devastated. Couldn’t she see what a budding chef I was?  I guess that was lost on her as she cared for a 5, 4, 3 and 1 year old while cooking dinner.

What brought this memory back so vividly was cooking with my three year old son the other day.  Bryan was having the same fun creating his own recipe as he washed vegetables and played in the sink.  He measured out pretend ingredients with made up measurements. Needless to say, I praised him to the high heavens when he was done. Even at the young age of three he had mastered several essential cooking concepts: measuring ingredients and mixing them, plus the creativity that is essential when pulling together ingredients for a recipe. Another great benefit during this time of “play cooking” is that this is when he tries new food quite often without hesitation.

He understands at three years of age that ingredients go into making a dish.  For example he knows that sugar, flour and eggs make a cake. This awareness is huge.  Many children think chicken nuggets come that way or their glow in the dark candy is actually a food.  They don’t have the ability to distinguish whether something is food or junk. Most of their generation has never been to a farm, grown food in a garden, or seen how food is prepared in a kitchen.  They are so removed from learning what food is that we can not blame them for choosing the great tasting junk.

With life’s frantic pace, I do not meet many children that know how to cook these days.  It is so important that kids know how to cook from scratch (even if you don’t know how yet), instead of just how to order out at a restaurant.  Their future health will depend on how much control they have over their food choices.  If they only know how to order out, their health will suffer in the long term. If your child does not already help you in the kitchen, try to get them in the kitchen at least on one night of the week.  Choose a night when you are less harried and stressed because it will be more fun for the both of you.

There is work that even a two to four year old can help with: wash fruit and vegetables, mix ingredients in a bowl and help you measure. My whole family loves Bryan’s fabulous tarter sauce. As your child ages they can work on other essential cooking elements that you help them with until they have mastered the technique: cutting up ingredients, reading and following a recipe, stirring a pot on the stove.  You will know when your child is ready and mature enough to handle each stage.  Focus on teaching them how to cook one meal really well so that by the time they are twelve they can make it themselves. Your goal is to send your son or daughter off to college, trade school or just out of the house mastering at least 4 recipes.  Common ones that many teens enjoy are chili, a pasta dish, an egg dish, and tacos.


The Poop Train

Let’s take a moment to talk about poop. I know it may be uncomfortable but poop can tell you so much about your child’s body (and yours). As a nutritionist there are several areas of the body that I focus on to determine if a person is digesting their food properly as well as to determine if there is a potential food allergy or sensitivity. These areas are the skin and bowel. Rashes, blisters and unhealthy skin say to me that I need to look into a possible food allergy or sensitivity and asking questions about a persons poop tells me so much about how their diet is affecting their body.

This may seem like an obvious statement but a person’s poop tells a lot about their digestion. Here are some questions that you may want to look into. Does your child poop every day? Is it painful? Does it take more than several minutes to poop? Is the poop in one long piece or does it look like rabbit pellets (this means they are dehydrated and constipated). It may seem gross but it is important to take a moment to determine if your child’s bowel movements are healthy (you may want to take a peek at yours too).

Once children are eating table food they should be having a bowel movement every day. If they are not, you should look into it. My 3 year old went from pooping several times a day during breastfeeding to very infrequently at the age of one. His pediatrician said not to worry but I knew better having worked as a nutritionist for over two decades. I paid attention to what my son ate and figured out that if he had any dairy in his diet he pooped every 5 days and when I removed all dairy he pooped every day. He may not have a “diagnosable food allergy” but he certainly has an issue (sensitivity) to dairy.

You may think that pooping every several days is no big deal but it is. Our bodies are designed to eliminate every day. The following are just some important reasons:

• Toxins have more time to hurt the wall of the intestine and potentially cause harm the longer they are in the bowel
• We do not re-circulate hormones and fat effectively when we don’t poop daily
• Constipation can cause low grade inflammation around the bowel that leads to a host of ill effects

For little children it is important to get them into the habit of sitting on the toilet to try and poop daily. For many, they dislike to do this because 1) it is boring and 2) it may be uncomfortable. You can tell your child that their poop is a train and their toots are a way of letting them know the train is ready to leave the station. This analogy has turned around my son’s bathroom habits. He now understands that when he gets that feeling and hears the toots, that means he has to go. Toot toot!

Pharmacists Invented Soda

When you think about the food and beverages that you consume, don’t you imagine that they were created in a kitchen somewhere? Maybe you haven’t stopped to think about it but I imagine a cook (be it a chef or a mom who loves to cook) pouring his or her passion for taste and food into a recipe and thus hot cocoa, or cake was born. At least that is what I strongly believe is supposed to happen.

Don’t you find it odd that the “inventors” of today’s most popular soft drinks were all pharmacists? Just as odd is that these drinks were invented, like in a scientific experiment. It is doubtful that the trained medical professionals that invented the soft drinks we consume today in outstanding amounts would have approved of Americans downing so much that it is the third source of calories in our diets.

John Pemberton looked for a cure for his morphine addiction and voila Coca Cola was born. In 1898 Caleb Bradham invented Pepsi and he believed his drink aided digestion. Charles Alderton a physician who decided to work as a pharmacist invented Dr Pepper in the 1880’s. Finally in 1866 Charles Hires created Root Beer and it is believed that he wanted his root beer to be an alternative to alcohol.

Perhaps we would all do better if we looked at a glass of soda as a drug and treated it as such: limiting the amount we ingested and not offering it to our children.