AAP on Energy and Sports Drinks

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released some new advice regarding your kids and their consumption of sports and energy drinks.  Since these drinks are the #3 source of calories in the diet of most kids, this advice comes at a good time. Many children reach for these beverages at meal and snack time when they should be drinking milk or water.  There is also confusion between the two types of drinks. Many children chose an energy drink after exercising when what most of them need after regular exercise is water.  In situations where they may actually need a sports drink, many children chose the energy drink instead.

During regular exercise, most kids will do well with just plain water. There is no reason to hydrate them with a sports drink that has added sugars, because the extra calories can contribute to tooth decay and obesity. In the rare instance when it is very hot and your child has been sweating profusely or they have been exercising vigorously for a prolonged period of time, a sports drink can be useful because it replaces the salts (electrolytes) that are lost during these times.

Energy drinks, however, are a different story, since they most often have some sort of stimulant in them, most often caffeine, and quite a bit of sugar.  Other stimulants that they may contain are guarana (an herbal stimulant), ginseng, and taurine, among others. There is no place in a child’s diet for stimulants as they have been linked to harmful health effects on children’s developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.  Kids will have enough energy when they follow healthy habits (eating right and getting enough sleep).

If your child doesn’t think that they are consuming too much caffeine then do the math, or better yet have them go a day or two without caffeine.  If they feel horrible, then they were drinking enough to develop a dependency, if not an addiction. The following are the average amounts of caffeine found in a can of cola (29 mg);  an 8 oz cup of coffee (95mg); and for every 8 oz of energy drinks (75-80 mg but it can range from 50 to 145mg per 8 oz). These are just typical values so beware and read the nutrition facts label because some cans or bottles of beverages marketed as “energy drinks” can contain up to 500 mg of caffeine and for several brands the amount is not listed on the label, which can be very dangerous.

Dr Debs’s bottom line: Avoid energy drinks as there is no place for caffeine and other stimulants in a child’s diet because they can be harmful. Save sports drinks for when those beverages may actually be needed such as during and after intense exercise.  There are no short cuts in life and artificially gaining a “buzz” or “boost” from stimulants (caffeine) will not promote health in either you or your child.  Since kids take the lead from their parents, avoid drinking these beverages yourself. Try going cold turkey together! Give kids water most of the time! If they need energy give them a piece of fruit or a glass of milk.

Unhealthy Eating: Is it One Problem or Many?

When the majority of us speak about needing to change our diet to a one that is healthier, we talk about it as if it is one problem and therefore assume it should be simple to fix.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  So if you beat yourself up because you think you are at an unhealthy weight or your children are eating too much junk food, stop!

In fact being overweight or eating an unhealthy diet is the outcome of many problems and issues that need to be “fixed”. When you look at the research and issues more closely it is not as simple as just changing your and your child’s diet plus exercising more.  To give you a sense of what you are up against, here is a list of just some of the issues:

  • Junk food can be addictive. More and more research is supporting what we have known for years.  It is hard to stop at just one cookie or chip!
  • The food and beverage industry bombards your child with advertisements for unhealthy food and drinks.
  • The food industry combines food and toys to increase the appeal.
  • Supermarkets place unhealthy food at kid height in the supermarket so that they will see it and scream for us to buy it for them.

So what are we supposed to do to overcome this onslaught of unhealthy messages?

  1. It starts by creating rules at home surrounding food.  Teach your children that in order to get to the unhealthy, junk, processed food, they first must eat the healthy stuff that they need to grow and reach their potential.
  2. Portion control is essential because we all know that it is hard to stop eating foods high in salt, fat or sugar.  Look at serving sizes on the website for a realistic idea of how many crackers, chips, or cookies are considered a serving size.  You will be very surprised.
  3. Teach your kids from an early age that advertisements are not always truthful.  Have them mute the TV when they come on or do something else until they are over.
  4. Before you even go into the grocery store, tell your child that they can pick one thing in the “treat/junk” category.  If they continue to ask, whine or yell for more they lose the privilege and that one treat goes back on the shelf.  They will learn soon enough.

What are some of your rules and tips for bringing up healthy eaters?

Build Healthy Kids: The Elevator Pitch

I have been thinking a lot these days about what separates BuildHealthyKids.com from other sites and programs dedicated to kids and nutrition. If I was riding in an elevator and had a minute to explain it, what would I say?  I have had lots of practice, in trains, hotel lobbies, at parties and while picking up my eggs at a local farm, but not in an elevator, yet.

This site provides the tools and information that you need to help you change your families diet towards one that promotes health but it does this by separating out the National requirements into twelve easy to follow building blocks so that you only have to focus on one thing a month. Eating healthfully does not come naturally anymore and you don’t have months and years to wait until your kids will naturally seek out and eat vegetables. That day may never come. I have seen many children that given the choice never make the healthy one. Their health matters and the decisions you make for them daily does affect their health and ability to maximize their potential. 

Another factor that makes this site unique is that it also teaches you “how to” get your child to eat the healthy stuff. There are a lot of frustrated parents that cook healthy alternatives only to have their child refuse to eat it.  In order to educate and lead your children to become healthy eaters, you must bring back rules and consequences surrounding eating; just like you do with every other behavior that you are teaching your child.

Letting children know that they cannot eat their dessert until they eat their vegetables is a good rule to adopt.  I apply it all day long. When my two year old gets up from a nap he knows that until he eats his fruit, he can’t get a cookie.  Teaching children the difference between food that is essential for health (the stuff they need to eat first) and the junky stuff (a ‘sometimes’ treat they can eat after they eat the good stuff) is essential for success in ‘building’ your children into healthy eaters.

Teaching your child how to eat a healthy diet takes time and effort plus a daily commitment to slow down and teach them the basics surrounding food: where it comes from; what to buy (or plant); how to prepare it; and how to eat it. Feeding kids is hard at times, takes effort, and is a daily commitment. Some days we do well and on others not so well. Children need us to make the healthy choices for them. They also need us to teach them what those are so that they can do the same when we are not around.

Should Taste Lead the Way in Kids’ Food Choices?

Did you ever wonder what drives kids’ decisions about what they want to eat?  It is a good question to ask because once we know that, we are better able to steer our kids in the right direction. Many of us believe that kids come into the world with a strict set of “likes” and “dislikes” for food and drink.  This belief causes a lot of struggle at dinner tables across America with children refusing to eat the food that is served to them, especially if it is healthy. All a child today has to say is “I don’t like this” and we back off because we have been told by pediatricians and dieticians that we should not interfere with their eating habits.

Encouraging and steering children in the right direction is exactly what we need to be doing on a daily basis. Kids are born with a preference for sweet tasting food and beverages and an aversion for things that taste bitter, but beyond that their tongues are like an artist’s palette. The food that you introduce to your child at an early age makes an impression for their tolerance and ‘liking’ of tastes as they age.  If we let their preferences for sweet food and drink dictate what they will and won’t eat, most will end up eating lots of processed food loaded with unhealthy fats, added sugars and salt and drinking tons of soda and juice.

A recent study published by researchers at New York University looked to see if the presence of calories on menu items at fast food restaurants would influence teenagers’ purchases. They conducted this study in New York City, before and after the city mandated in 2008 that fast food establishments list the calorie content of food and beverages on their menu items. They were a pioneer in this movement and now, after the healthcare reform act, restaurants that have more than 20 or more locations must post calories on their menus.  Many nutritionists and policy makers believe that this step will help consumers to make healthier decisions when ordering food outside of the home.  What these researchers found was that only 9% of the teens in the study considered the calorie content of menu items before ordering.

So what did the research show was the major contributor for kids’ food choices at fast food restaurants? Taste!  72% of the adolescents said that taste was the most important factor when choosing a meal.  That comes as no surprise to anyone who has worked with children and their eating habits. All you have to do is observe children from the time they eat table food until they leave the house to see that taste leads the way.  And exactly where does a sole focus on taste lead our kids? It puts them on a path where 40% of the calories they consume come from added fats and sugars; stuff that their growing bodies do not need in excess.  It leads to a tripling of obesity rates in the last 3 decades and it puts our kid’s health at risk whereby a Caucasian child has a one in three chance of developing diabetes in his or her lifetime and this increases to a one in two chance for Hispanic and African American children.

We need to teach our young the difference between food that is healthy for them and essential for life, and food and beverages that are junk and do nothing to help them reach their potential.  Once they know this basic fact, they need to be taught from an early age that they need to eat the healthy stuff first before they can get to the occasional treat.  Children need to learn “how” to eat and “why” they need to eat that way so that when they are older and are faced with a decision of what to eat; they will have the cognitive ability to make sound choices.  Whether or not they make those choices however is out of our control when they are older but just like any other behavior we teach our kids like good sleeping habits and clean hygiene, we can do just so much to prepare them and after a certain age they are on their own.  Make sure you prepare your child before they leave the nest so that they can reach their potential and have a better chance of living a healthy life.

Kids Top 3 Calorie Sources are Junk

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 was just released and in the 95 page report there were very few surprises. For most of us, the primary source of our calories comes from carbohydrates, we do well in eating enough protein, and we eat too much added sugar, salt and solid fat (junk food). I want to know, in whose world is it OK for the top three sources of calories in our kid’s diet to be grained based desserts (cakes, pies, cookies etc), pizza and soda/energy/sports drinks? We all love our children and would do anything for them so how did we get here?

I don’t think it comes as a surprise to many of us that our kids are eating an unhealthy diet. Many of us struggle against peer pressure, fast food establishments located on every corner, hours of advertisements for unhealthy food and beverages, displays at the store for junk food that are at eye level for our kids, school lunches that mimic fast food, huge portions, and just the sheer exhaustion of figuring out how to set limits and bring up healthy eaters.

If you are a parent in today’s world you are instructed to let your child decide if and how much and you provide the what and when. When your child sits down for dinner you are told not to enforce any rules or expectations. You are also advised to not encourage your child to eat, or praise them when they do a good job.  This popular recommendation that you often hear at pediatrician and nutritionist offices, puts the control of what to eat and how much of it they will eat into the hands of the very young.  If you give a child free reign around food, the majority will run down the road to processed food, junk food and soda. How can you blame them? If our taste buds led the way and we had no “knowledge” as to why we should eat something that doesn’t taste anywhere near as good as candy, soda and chips, than we would also sprint down this path

Have no fear. You and your child(ren) are exactly where you need to be to turn this around.  I spent the last three years developing a simple, step by step program for busy families that want to feed their children a healthy diet. At BuildHealthyKids.com you will find tips and tools plus as much information as your time allows to understand and follow one recommendation a month.  I took the guidelines set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA) and put them all into 12 easy to follow building blocks.

The focus this month is on choosing healthy fats. Follow me on Face Book and I will keep you updated on the latest nutrition information that affects our kids, plus I will describe simple changes that you can make each week that will make a huge difference in your family’s diet and ultimately their health. Won’t you join me and other families on a year long journey?  I promise to not overwhelm, all I will ask is for you to focus on one change a month and by years end your family will be eating a healthy diet and living an active life.