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

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.