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


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


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!


5 Steps to Switching Your Family to Whole Grains

Focus this month on switching your family over to whole grain products. Eating whole grains is a challenge for many of us and is up there in the top 2 ‘eating fights’ we have with our kids. Follow these five steps for success.

Step 1 Prepare Yourself by Being Label Savvy: Buying whole grain products can be very tricky indeed. Just take a look down the cereal or bread aisle: Made with Whole Grains, 100% Whole Grains, contains 1 serving of Whole Grains jumps out at us. What should you believe?

  • Select those items that have a whole grain as the 1st ingredient on the ingredient list: “whole wheat”, “whole corn”, “rye berries”, whole oats” for example
  • Don’t believe the front of the box. Avoid “made with whole grain” as these products can have only a tiny amount of whole grain in them
  • Look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving (2 grams of fiber if the serving is 80 calories or less)
  • There are 2 Whole Grain stamps developed by the Whole Grain Council that you may see on the front or back of a package.

1. The Whole Grain stamp means that there is some whole grain in the product (a minimum of 8 grams of whole grain). Check the ingredient list to see what else in the product as these might not be the best choices.
2. The 100% Whole Grain stamp means the product is made with 100% whole grains. A minimum amount of whole grains in the product must be 16 grams. Products that have this stamp are a great whole grain choice.

Step 2 Begin with Breakfast: Most children start their day eating foods high in sugar and processed grains. Take one to two weeks to make over their breakfast to one that contains a serving of whole grains which will provide them the energy they need over a longer period of time

  • Switch cereals made with processed grain to those made with whole grain (whole oats, whole corn, whole wheat
  • Offer bagels or bread made with whole wheat (1st ingredient whole wheat) instead of processed wheat (white flour, enriched flour, wheat flour) bagels or bread
  • Toaster cakes, donuts, cinnamon rolls, and many muffins (those made with processed flour) are no better for your child than offering them a piece of cake for breakfast. Breakfast does not need to be fun; it just needs to be healthy. Save these items for occasional treats.
  • Serve oatmeal made with whole oats and less than 4 grams of sugar per serving

Step 3 Focus on Breads: Switching your child to whole grain bread is difficult and may require an incentive. Give younger children a sticker and older children 5 points every time they eat whole grain bread. When they reach a certain amount of stickers or points (you decide) reward them with something that they want: time with you alone or a toy for example.

Step 4 Find and Replace Processed Food: Look at the label of the crackers, pizza, pasta, rice, baked goods and other items made with grains and replace them with a whole grain product. You can do this slowly by adding ¼ the amount of whole grain to the processed grain. For example when making pasta, add some whole grain pasta (¼ the amount) to the pasta made with white flour. Continue until you have switched over to the whole grain product.

Step 5 Serve Other Whole Grains: There are many grains besides wheat, corn and oats that most of eat on a daily basis. Try quinoa, buckwheat, teff, Kamut, spelt, amaranth and millet to name a few.

September – Eat 2 Fruit a Day!

In September the focus is on fruit; the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit.  If you are a busy parent and have a hard time getting your child to eat fresh fruit everyday, you probably let them drink several juice boxes to make up for it.  In fact, you may even give them the new variety of juice that provides vegetables and fruit in a juice box.  Great, you think; you can kill two birds with one stone and have them drink the fruit/vegetable juice and avoid the battle you have with them when you try to get them to eat whole fruits and vegetables.

Is there something wrong with this approach?  Sadly there is.  I am all about giving you short cuts and easier ways to feed your child a healthy diet but when children drink too much juice, it is not healthy for them.  When your child drinks juice instead of eating the whole fruit it prevents their taste buds from developing a taste and a preference for the texture of whole produce. They set their taste buds up to want more and more sweet tasting food and drink instead.  If your child is the type that downs 3 or 4 juice boxes a day, chances are they also want cookies, candy and cake as well.

If your child drinks too much juice at one sitting they can get diarrhea and a tummy ache. If they continue to drink a lot of juice every day this can lead to cavities, becoming overweight as well as being malnourished if they substitute juice for other food that they should be eating.  It can also prevent your child from reaching their height potential. Did you hear that?  Your child can develop a short stature from consuming too much juice and avoiding a balanced diet.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has set a limit on the amount of juice that your child should be drinking every day because they know the risks associated with drinking too much juice.  The recommendation is 4-6 oz of 100% juice for children 1 to 6 years, and 8-12oz of 100% juice for children 7 to 18 years of age. The AAP does not recommend juice for babies under 6 months of age and drinking juice from a bottle is not advised.

In summary, because it is so easy to over-consume calories by drinking too much juice and avoid eating a balanced diet, it is best to limit the amount of juice that your child drinks to the amount set by the AAP.  Make sure the juice that you do offer your child is 100% juice and not a juice cocktail, a juice-ade or juice drink. Your child should eat their fruit instead of drink it. Make sure they get at least two servings a day.

August – Involve Your Kids!

August seems to come and go so quickly. Many of us are enjoying the last moments of fun in the sun with our kids while others can’t wait for our little darlings to go back to school.  No matter what camp you are in, and I vacillate between the two, take some time this month to involve your children in all aspects of food.

Just like animals in the wild, we are our kids’ primary source of information when it comes to food. It is fascinating to watch a polar bear teaching her cubs how to hunt for themselves. She pounces on ice to hunt fish and seals underneath and then will tear it apart once she has caught it.  That mother polar bear is teaching her cubs what they need to eat, how to hunt for it and how to eat it. Our children need to learn how to plan, shop and prepare food too. It is never too early to start as long as you are careful.  As soon as my boys were able to stand at the kitchen counter I gave them a job to do; washing vegetables and biting into them were their favorite activities.  It helped them to learn by interacting with a new food in a playful and non-stressful manner.

I see lots of kids today that are so afraid to try new food that they start to shake just when you show them the new food. If your child is fearful of trying anything that they have not eaten before, make sure that you let them interact with the new food before you ask them to eat it.  Having your child help you to select a recipe, pick a new vegetable or fruit to try at the market, and/or wash the new vegetable at home, will help your child to familiarize themselves with that new food before they are asked to eat it. A sticker chart works wonders here for the younger child: place a finger, a nose and a mouth in one of three columns on a sheet of paper.  Your child gets to place a sticker under the column when they touch the new food, smell the new food and finally work their way up to taste the new food.

Children also benefit greatly from learning where food comes from so that they are able to see the difference between what food is supposed to look like and the highly processed stuff that passes for food a lot of the time.  Explain where foods comes from when you are both at the market or better yet, plant a small garden or shop at a farmers market. You don’t want your kids to grow up thinking chicken comes in nice neat packages, potatoes are always sliced into chips or fires, or it’s OK to eat food that glows in the dark or stains their mouths a neon green.

The more involved you children are in all aspects of food, the better chance you will have of bringing up a healthy eater. Even eating as a family has long lasting impact on children. When children leave the home in their twenties, they will eat a healthier diet away from home if they came from families that ate together as compared to families that did not. Wherever you are, start there. If you don’t eat together at all, try to eat together as a family just one night a week and work your way up to what works for your family.

July – Limit Soda and Juice

It is summer time and for most of us that means hot weather.  What do your kids reach for to quench their thirst: soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, juice, milk or water? Most of the time all they need is water unless they have been exercising or sweating for prolonged periods of time in the heat. A sports drink can replenish the water and electrolytes lost from lots of sweating but for most kids, water will do after regular exercise.

Many kids today reach for flavored water, energy drinks and sports drink on a regular basis throughout their day and younger children reach for juice and flavored milk instead. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 listed soda/energy drinks/sports drinks as the number one source of added sugar in a child’s diet today.  On average, kids today drink 7.5 teaspoons of added sugar from these beverages.  That may not seem like a lot at first glance but when you add that up it equals 56 cups of sugar a year from soda, energy drinks and sports drinks!

What is all this sugar doing to our children’s bodies? Children are at an increased risk of developing ADHD, autoimmune disease, cavities, certain cancers, candida, chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia, chronic sinusitis, decreased immune function, diabetes, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome and spastic colon, metabolic syndrome, and obesity from taking in huge amounts of added sugar every year.  Since sugary drinks are the number one source of added sugar in a child’s diet it makes sense to limit the amount that you give your child.

Children only need water to quench their thirst and remain hydrated throughout their day.  How much water do they actually need?  The following table lists minimum water requirements assuming that in addition to the water your child is also drinking 2-3 glasses of milk a day and ½ to 1 cup of juice too.


Age of Child Minimum* Water Requirements
2-3 year 1 ½ cups
4-6 year 2 cups
7-8 year 1 ½ cups
9-13 year Boy 4 cups
9-13 year Girl 3 cups
14-18 year Boy 7 cups
14-18 year Girl 4 cups

* These are estimates of the minimum requirements for water. If your child is outside in hot weather, sick, exercising for prolonged periods of time, or is on certain medication they may need more. Let their thirst dictate how much they need.

In children who drink lots of sugary beverages, their taste buds have developed a preference for sweet tasting drinks over regular water. In order to turn this bad habit around, reduce their intake of sweet drinks by ¼ cup a day until they are drinking mostly water, up to one cup of juice a day and plain unflavored milk. Stay tuned for more on this as I am writing a book on sugar addiction in kids that will be coming out next year (2012).

Image Source: Project Swole

June – Get Your Calcium Now!

  • Think of a bone as a bank. Children can only deposit calcium into their bank to make strong bones until they reach 20 years of age. After that, only withdrawals can occur.
  • Drinking soda or not getting enough calcium in the diet causes calcium to be removed from your child’s bones.
  • The majority of children ages 9-18 do not get enough calcium. Make sure your child gets 2 to 3 servings of high calcium foods every day (e.g. low fat milk products, green leafy vegetables).

May is Exercise Month

  • Everyone needs to exercise 60 minutes a day, parents included.
  • Its OK to break up exercise into 20 or 30 minutes segments.
  • Have your child run and play after a long day at school before doing their homework.

April – Limit Screen Time

  • · Limit screen time to under two hours a day (not including homework time).
  • · Put your child in charge. Set a timer for the 1 or 2 hours and when the timer goes off so does the TV, movie, DS, Game boy or video game.
  • Remove TV’s and other electronic devices from your child’s bedrooms.
  • Have your child ‘pay’ for their electronic time: 1 hour exercise = 1 hour screen time. No roll-over minutes!