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The best beverages for kids

Flavored water, 100% juice, juice drinks, flavored milk, soda, energy drinks—even coffee. As these beverages are marketed to kids, consumption rises. How do these beverages affect children’s health and which are the best choices?

Kids 2-19 years of age are drinking up to 15 perecent of their daily calories from sugar-sweetened beverages, and that number has been, and continues to be, on the rise.

Boys often drink more sugary beverages than girls, and across the board, there’s an increase in the amount of sugary beverages kids drink and a decrease in the amount of water and nutrient-rich beverages, such as milk.

This is not surprising considering almost two-thirds of all kid-focused advertising is for foods or beverages with low nutrition.

These choices can affect a child’s bone and tooth health. Less calcium and vitamin D in the diet increases susceptibility to weaker bones and tooth decay.

Also, the caffeine in some sugar-sweetened drinks may cause additional calcium to be excreted from the body, furthering the problem.

Michele Nikolai, clinical nutrition manager at Sparrow Health System in Lansing, Michigan, is starting to see trends in body weight related to drink choices.

“The majority of the children and teens we see that are overweight or obese drink a disproportionately high amount of calories from sugar-sweetened beverages. Some think that calories from drinks don’t count, so they may consume anywhere from 500 to 2,000 calories per day from these drinks.”

Nikolai has found many families model good nutrition choices while at home by offering milk or milk alternatives at mealtimes, but struggle when eating away from home.

“Eating out frequently is common, and this is when many children have sugar-sweetened beverages.”

On the positive side, more parents seem to be purchasing 100% juices instead of sugar-sweetened juice drinks. Nikolai points out that while 100% juices are a healthier choice due to their naturally occurring vitamins and no added sugars, calorie content and portion size are still important considerations.

“The calorie content is almost the same in all the 100 percent fruit juices, soda pops and fruit drinks.”

Although a specific recommendation for a maximum daily amount of added sugar does not exist, health care professionals recommend limiting added sugars as much as possible.

An average 12-ounce soft drink can have 40 grams of added sugar which is equivalent to 10 teaspoons or almost one-fifth cup.

As a whole, Nikolai and the pediatric dietitians at Sparrow recommend and encourage non-sweetened beverages for their clients and patients. But even more so, they encourage whole fruits instead of juice.

Pointers for Parents:

Flavored milk is a nutrient-rich option for kids who don’t like plain milk. When possible, choose fat-free or low-fat milk. If sweetened milk products are chosen, the added sugars should be considered in light of the daily total added sugar intake.

To make sure kids are drinking enough water, always have some in tow. Kids may drink more water if it’s offered to them in a “sports bottle” with a team or school logo on it.

Parents can set a good example by drinking healthy beverages themselves and by buying healthy beverages for their children.

Written by Gina Keilen. Keilen is a registered dietitian formerly of the Greater Lansing area, now living in Howell.  She works at University of Michigan Hospital as a Food Service Manager.


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