One of the biggest contributors to the excessive amount of calories that American children consume is BEVERAGES. The average American teenager consumes in the neighborhood of 400 calories. That’s the equivalent of a four mile run! In my practice I give many of my overweight young patients a food journal to keep track of a week’s worth of eating. In talking to their families and reviewing their journals I often find that I can help them get back to a normal weight just by getting them off of sweetened beverages.

Here are some of the beverages I see kids drinking excessively.

  1. Fruit juice and fruit drinks. These are loaded with calories and sugar. Even 100% juice is high in calories and low in nutrition. Consider than 8 oz. of apple juice has about 20 more calories than 8 oz of coke! What about eating an apple? It’s less calories and has fiber, which many kids diets are lacking. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children from age 6 months to 6 years get no more than 4-6 oz of juice per day. I see so many  toddlers and young children in my office with sippy cups full of strangely colored fruit drinks. Ultimately these extra calories can translate into extra weight and early tooth decay.
  2.  Sports Drinks.  I see many families overusing these drinks for their young athletes and letting them drink them regularly at home.  Most children are not sweating enough to require the calories and electrolytes in these drinks.  As an every day drink most sports drinks are high in calories and artificial dyes. I keep one bottle of an electrolyte drink in the back of the fridge just in case one of the kids is sick and needs a rehydration drink.  These are not really a healthy choice for every day.
  3. Sweetened tea.  I’m not sure why families are giving young kids caffeinated drinks anyway, and decaffeinated teas often use chemical solvents to extract caffeine.  Yuck!  Sweet tea only tastes good when there’s enough sugar to rival soda! Most prepared sweet teas have about the same number of calories too.
  4. Soda. Not much to say about his except your “nutrients per calorie” is just about ZERO.  Regularly ingesting that much sugar puts strain on the pancreas, which can ultimately lead to diabetes. At my house soda is a “special occasion drink” but definitely not an everyday drink.
So what’s wrong with water?  It’s free, for the most part.  It’s ZERO calories and frees up some calories for us to eat foods with real nutrition.  Water does not promote tooth decay. It’s good for us, and it’s what humans are meant to drink!
Families say to me, “But my kids don’t LIKE water!”  Just like many things, with time and patience kids WILL adjust.  I used to keep lots of juice boxes, orange juice and lemonade in the fridge to share with friends.  I have slowly phased those products out over the past few years.  In terms of drinks, I now buy milk and that’s about it.  Three amazing things have happened after I made that decision.
  1. My kids drink water.
  2. My kids LIKE to drink water.
  3. I spend less money at the grocery store. This money now can be put in my pocket or used for other healthful changes like more organic produce and local farmed raised meats. Two small packs of juice boxes plus one carton of orange juice per week was costing me almost 500 per year!!
One thing parents can do to get kids off the sugary beverage train is STOP BUYING THESE PRODUCTS.  If parents bring sweet drinks into their homes, just expect that kids will drink them.  It’s up to adults to set an example and not buy these drinks regularly.  Phasing drinks out slowly may help the transition  (cutting juice with water at first, or limiting sugary beverages to once a day or a few times a week).  “Infusing” water with fruits, herbs, ginger etc. is another great way to introduce water. But ultimately parents need to get on board, shop differently, and start drinking water themselves. In my opinion, drinking water is one of the best habits parents can teach their kids.
See my post on FredericksburgParent.net on Fruit Water Infusions.

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