Recently, I had a 9 year old girl visit my office for a physical exam. She had gained some weight over the last year and I had to go into detective mode to figure out what might be the cause of the problem. She had been eating about the same, fairly healthy, but got into a “soda” habit. She was having at least one soda a day. Aha! I believe we are getting somewhere! Some people might think, “What’s the big deal? It’s just one a day”. But, look at the ingredients in most sodas. After water, high fructose corn syrup is the next ingredient. High fructose corn syrup is one of the code names for sugar. Sugar has a lot of nicknames: high fructose corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, sucrose, syrup. Sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages play a huge role in our epidemic of childhood obesity. A 20 oz soda has about 16 teaspoons of sugar and about 250 calories! It is recommended by the American Heart Association that children get only 3-4 teaspoons of sugar a day. Teens should get no more than 5-9 teaspoons a day. Ne soda and you are over that limit. Unfortunately, the average American teenager takes in about 34 teaspoons of sugar a day and a lot of that comes from sugar-sweetened beverages.
The interesting thing about high fructose corn syrup is that it can fool your body. Unlike nutrient rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats and grains, our bodies don’t feel satisfied. Medical studies have shown that if you drink a soda with a meal, you actually don’t eat less calories. So, those extra 250 calories are just added into your day. After one year of 250 extra calories a day, that’s about a 25 lb weight gain in a year for adults! And those calories are “empty” calories. What that means is that they don’t have as many nutrients as other foods or drinks such as milk but yet they are a part of your calories for the day.
Even seemingly healthy drinks such as sport drinks can have a lot of sugar. Many have about 8 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Look at the portion size on sport drinks. You may think you are only getting 120 calories, but there might be 2 servings in the bottle. For children playing participating in physical activities, water is the drink that is recommended.
What about juice? Juice has some vitamins such as Vitamin A and C. However, many juices have the pulp removed. By removing the pulp, you are taking away the healthy fiber that helps our bodies process the juice itself. Better to eat the fruit and drink water is what I like to say! A small amount of juice is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. But, no more than 4-6 ounces for kids 1-7 years old and 8-12 ounces for kids 7-18 years old.
What should kids be drinking? Answer: Water and low-fat milk!
You might wonder about milk since it has calories. Why is a 250 calorie glass of milk different than a 250 calorie glass of soda? Milk is a nutrient-rich drink. It has many nutrients such as protein and calcium which help build up our muscles and bones. And, our body becomes satisfied with those calories, it becomes a part of the calories we consume for the day, and we will decrease the amounts of other foods we eat.
For kids, water can be very boring. Often our kids today are looking for some flavor in their drink. What can we do to make water more exciting? Try to add some fresh fruits to a pitcher of water and leave that in refrigerator. Most fruits add great flavor such as lemon, lime, strawberry, and pineapples. Some fruits and vegetables work great too, like cucumber or mint.
I challenge everyone to be a detective! What’s in YOUR drink? Look for those hidden sugars and avoid them as much as possible. Remember: Drink water and low-fat milk instead!