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.

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.


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.

Lessons From Ferdinand the Bull

I took a walk this morning to the llama and cow farm down the street and said hello to Ferdinand, the name I gave the sole bull amongst the heifers. I watched as he threw up cud into his mouth a couple of times while we locked eyes. My instinct was to dry heave but I stayed with him and watched as no sign of uncomfortable-ness or fear or icky-ness passed his eyes. If I were to throw up into my mouth, I certainly wouldn’t be that calm.

I remembered that cows have 4 stomachs and their digestive tracts are set up so that a cow or bull needs to re-chew her/his food (cud) several times before he can digest the fibrous grass. This is from WikiAnswers: “The cow typically likes to swallow her food whole, so the process of fermentation is twofold: one after she initially swallows or eats feed like grass, hay or grain, then again after she regurgitates the partly digested matter, re-chews it to break it down even more, then swallows it again to complete the fermentation (or rumination) process’”

I realized that this action from Ferdinand was a metaphor for life. How many times have we tried to accomplish a goal and failed or “get over” an issue only to have it resurface? What if we remained calm and saw “failure” as actually one step closer to achieving our goal? Let’s try not judging ourselves so harshly or giving up because that issue we went to therapy about or talked with our friends about keeps coming back up.

So if you have “failed” another diet, couldn’t get your kids to eat the whole grains you purchased and have resorted back to feeding your kids what they want to eat instead of what is the most healthful for them try this instead of beating yourself up: look at the “failure” as not a failure at all but as a gift, an opportunity to try something new, a lesson in what did and didn’t work, and begin again. Perhaps you took on more than you could handle or you didn’t have the support to stick with it. That is what Build Healthy Kids is all about. Join me in making one small change at a time.

Nutrition Advice Hasn’t Changed since 1937!


I came across a magazine that was published in 1937 and distributed to new mothers.  Here is how the article started: “The American housewife today is offered an opportunity such as never before been known in the history of our country.  This opportunity is one of cooperating with her government in a national crisis, by intelligent planning, buying and preparation of daily food for her family. To make a strong nation, we must have strong individuals; and to have strong individuals, we must have proper nutrition.”  1937 was a time when finances were scarce, some food was rationed, and many had to live on little. Is some of that sounding familiar to many today?

4 types of food were listed to serve as a guide for mothers when making meals and snacks. Moms were asked to serve food from each group every day until “new discoveries produced a guide that was better”.  The 4 types of food were:

  1. Body building and repairing: protein and minerals. This included the food groups “meats/beans”, including legumes, “dairy” and whole “grains”.
  2. Body regulating: vitamins and minerals: Included “milk” and soy beans
  3. Energy foods: starches, sugars and fats
  4. Roughage or bulk materials: included “fruits”, “vegetables” and “whole grains”

It certainly looks identical to what we are asked to follow today. I guess in 75 years a healthy well balanced diet hasn’t changed despite the enormous efforts of scientists and nutritionists to fine tune it. That is not to say that we haven’t learned things along the way but I think the single most irrefutable fact is that a healthy diet is made up of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meats and legumes. Taking these whole foods and processing the life out of them has cost many years off of their life. Stick to eating as close to nature as possible and you will never go wrong.


Don’t Let Your Child Eat Their Weight In Sugar Each Year!

This month is about limiting treats. Did you know that on average, kids are eating and drinking their weight in sugar every year?  The Dietary Guideline for Americans 2010 stated that on average children are consuming 23 teaspoons of sugar a day which adds up to 78 pounds a year. That is a scary statistic seeing that sugar in excess can cause so many ailments; from the subtle (acne) to the life threatening (diabetes and heart disease). Our children’s bodies are not designed to handle this load of excess sugar.

You may think that your child does not eat anywhere near that amount of added sugar in a year but you may be surprised to find that they are eating more than you realize.  Take some time to observe what your children are eating. Add up an average days amount starting with breakfast and finishing with their after dinner snack. Follow these steps:

1. Look at the labels of foods and beverages that your child commonly consumes and write down the amount of Sugar on the label that the product contains (if they eat or drink more than one serving multiply the grams of sugar by the number of servings).

3. At breakfast, don’t count the first 4oz of juice if your child is younger than 7 years of age and 8 ounces of juice if your child is 7 years or older. Beyond that count the grams of sugar; add to that the amount of sugar in their cereal, toaster cake or other breakfast item

4. Add up the grams of sugar in their morning snack. If they drink flavored milk, don’t count the first 12 grams of sugar in 8 ounces of milk as that is from lactose.

5. Add the grams of sugar from lunch; vegetables, fruit, and regular milk do not count towards their daily sugar intake. Count only those food or beverages that have a food label plus any sugar added to your child’s food.

6. Add the grams of sugar in their afternoon snack and beverage

7. Add the grams of sugar in any sauces, ketchup or other foods that have sugar added to them at dinner; marshmallows on potatoes etc…

8. Add the grams of sugar from any snack, dessert your child has before bed.  This will give you their grand total for the day in grams of sugar. Multiply that number by 365 days of the year.

To figure out how to translate grams of sugar per year into something you and your child can understand compute the following:

Total grams of sugar per year divided by 4 = teaspoons per year

Teaspoons per year divided by 48 = cups of sugar per year

Once you figure out how many cups of sugar your child is consuming every year, show your child how much this is.  This is an effective tool if you are having a hard to time convincing your child to switch from flavored milk to regular milk or  to stop choosing the sugar loaded yogurts or any other sweet treat your child has trouble limiting.  Calculate what this adds up to in a year from just that one food or drink and pour that amount of sugar into a glass or bowl to show them how much they are consuming. This exercise is sure to have an impact on them for years to come.

Totally forbidding your child sweet treats will probably backfire on you and cause your child to want more of them. Your goal is to limit the amount of sweet treats that your child eats to one a day. In reality some days they will have more and hopefully on some they will have less. Let me know what you found!


Diary of a Picky Kid

Follow the antics, trials and tribulations of a very, very picky eater. Meet Charlie: he doesn’t eat any fruit, will throw up if his mom makes him and doesn’t like anything to do with healthy food.  He would live on Halloween candy if he could.  Read along as Charlies mom, Cindy, blogs about her frustrations and interactions with Charlie as she tries to get him to eat healthy food.  You will be sure to laugh out loud, learn a lot and be able to turn around your picky eater if you have one.

Play With Your Food

Let’s play “Let’s Pretend”. What would happen if you were invited out to dinner at a restaurant, knew nothing about the food they served there: if it was healthy or even tasted good?  Once you arrived, you were not given a menu or asked what your preference was and suddenly a plate of something ‘unknown’ and ‘unidentifiable’ was put down in front of you.  Do you dig in with a smile on your face or say “no way”?  I would imagine that only the extreme foodie wouldn’t have a problem with this but the rest of us would.  I wouldn’t eat a meal if I didn’t know what it was made of and how it was prepared.

Doesn’t the same thing happen to our kids at dinner on most nights of the week?  Children have been so far removed from food; the growing, selecting and preparation that it is no wonder that when they see a candy that glows in the dark or blue applesauce or neon pink yogurt, that they think these products are food. We need to engage all of children’s senses around food so that they come to their senses when choosing what foods they will and will not eat. Let them read about a new food (vegetable, fruit, legume, grain) pick it up, squeeze it, smell it, wash it, cut it up, play with it and really get familiar with the new food before asking them to take a bite.  This ‘play’ also teaches children what food should look and feel like so that when they are faced with junk food it will look like junk to them.

We all fear the unknown when it comes to food.  There is actually a name for it; neophobia, and this fear is built into our genes as a survival mechanism.  It kept us from eating everything we found while toddling around as a two year old. Years ago a child would have helped his parents till the ground, plant a seed, water the seedling, and pick the vegetable before they were asked to eat it. They also most likely helped their mother and grandmother in the kitchen prepare dinner.   This generation of children has no idea where food comes from.

I am not asking that you turn your kitchen into a short order diner but I do want you to involve your kids so that they are familiar with what they are eating before it is put down in front of them. Have your child choose a new food; vegetable, fruit, fish, or legume for example, at the store once a week and bring them back into the kitchen to play with their food before serving it to them to eat.