How You Can Help Your Child Navigate Beverage Choices
Does the summer sun have you feeling extra thirsty? Me, too. When I’m thirsty, I want to choose something that’s refreshing and hydrating, but with so many different beverage options, it’s difficult to know what the healthiest selection is. Let’s navigate the sea of beverage choices that are available for you and your child.
Gold Medal Winner: Water
Water itself may sound like a boring and obvious choice, but its benefits are insurmountable.
Water restores the fluids in your body that are lost through metabolism, sweating and breathing.
One of water’s most important jobs is to cool the body. During the summer months, your body requires more replacement fluids and cooling methods than at other times throughout the year.
The cool thing is that your body could live off water alone (and food, of course), but no other beverages are really necessary to survive and thrive.
Another benefit of water is that it has virtually no cost. Imagine how much you could save not buying that daily high-end coffee drink or not stopping by the vending machine for your afternoon sugar kick.
I always encourage parents to continue to provide and promote water even if their child doesn’t care for it. It’s so important to the body that you just can’t go without it.
Try adding fruit and herbs, like lemon, berries and mint, to make infused water. Kids can choose which add-ins they want to use to flavor the water and make their own creations. While you’re working on getting your kids to enjoy drinking more water, here are some other acceptable hydration options:
- Sparkling waters: Choose those that are naturally flavored.
- Unsweetened iced tea: Tea has been shown to have numerous health benefits due to its antioxidant content, and it can be a great form of hydration. Decaffeinated tea will be more hydrating that caffeinated.
- Milk or unsweetened milk alternatives: Although milk doesn’t seem like the most hydrating drink of choice in the summer, it’s a beneficial beverage full of protein, calcium and vitamin D. White milk has a natural sugar that’s OK to include daily.
- Sugar-free drinks (in moderation): Choose sugar-free drinks as an enhancement to your daily water intake, but not as a complete replacement. Choose drinks sweetened with more natural artificial sweeteners, like stevia.
What not to drink
Leave these out of the running:
- Sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda pop, lemonade, fruit punch drinks and sweet tea: These drinks provide zero nutritional benefit. They increase the risk of weight gain and associated diseases.
- Juice: Recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no juice for any children under 1 year old, and suggest limiting juice to a maximum of 4 to 8 ounces per day for toddlers through adolescents. You can get juice’s nutrients from a serving of fruit. A piece of fruit also will provide you with dietary fiber, which keeps you full and helps control blood sugar spikes. When juice is made, even 100 percent juice or juicing yourself at home, the fiber is stripped away and all you’re left with is sugar.
- Energy drinks: Energy drinks are a giant blood sugar spike just waiting to happen. Additionally, the caffeine is a stimulant and not recommended for children, especially the excessive amounts in energy drinks.
- Coffee drinks: In addition to the caffeine concern, coffee drinks are typically loaded with sugary syrups and high-fat milks, and oftentimes whipped cream on top. You’re not getting an afternoon pick-me-up, but a mega-dose of sugar that will leave you feeling sluggish shortly after. A healthier choice (for adults or adolescents only) would be a hot or iced coffee with milk or a milk alternative added.
Many people don’t realize how many calories are in these beverages. In addition, they are empty calories that provide no nutrients for your body. with 100 percent of the calories coming from sugar. So they’re not appropriate choices to hydrate your body or to promote a healthy body weight.
The skinny on sports drinks
Sports drinks or electrolyte-containing beverages can be incorporated into a healthy hydration plan if your child is exercising for more than 60 minutes. When kids are highly active and burning calories, these fluid replacement drinks are beneficial due to the added carbohydrates and electrolytes.
However, if physical activity is less than that time period, water is enough to hydrate and replace all fluid losses.
Sports drinks add to daily calorie and sugar intake in a large amount, just as any other sugar-sweetened beverage does. One bottle of a typical, 20-ounce sports drink contains approximately 34 grams of sugar – which is more than the sugar content of a full-size candy bar (around 27 grams).
Smoothies are a highly consumed beverage, particularly in the summer, and they are a great way to get in some fruit and veggie servings.
However, commercial smoothies, either pre-bottled or from your local smoothie shop, often contain added sugars from juices, frozen yogurts, honey or other additives. One medium smoothie contains about 60 grams of sugar, much of which is added sugar.
To create a healthier smoothie, try making one at home and use water or milk as your liquid in place of juice. You can always ask at the smoothie shop to swap out the juice and frozen yogurt for low-fat milk or unsweetened milk alternatives.