Are energy and sports drinks good for kids? Your child may ask, “Can I have this energy drink?” Don’t be surprised. Today’s ads market children, teens and young adults for energy drink sales. First introduced in 1997, these drinks are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and their long-term safety is not known. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that they are not recommended for children. Even so, 30 to 50 percent of adolescents say that they consume energy drinks.
The main ingredient of energy drinks is caffeine. Other substances such as guarana, which contains caffeine, may be present as well. Energy drinks can have as much caffeine as nine cans of soda or four cups of coffee!
Although caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed stimulant, it can cause nervousness, increased blood pressure, irritability, sleeplessness and a rapid heartbeat, and may worsen psychiatric conditions. Higher doses may cause dehydration, anxiety, panic attacks, stomach upset and heart palpitations.
Most energy drinks are not calorie-free, thus contributing to excess nonnutritive calories. This use of unnecessary calories is contributing to obesity in America. Currently, one-third of American children are overweight, and one-third of those kids are obese.
Sports Drinks Are for Sports
Originally, sports drinks were intended for use in college athletics when practicing for long hours in the heat. Today, kids think that they are good for everyday lunch purposes. They contain calories, carbohydrates, electrolytes and flavoring. These are not recommended for children on a daily basis, and should be reserved for prolonged vigorous physical exercise. So what are our alternatives as parents? If we say no to the energy drink at the grocery store, and no to the sports drink for lunch, then what should our children be drinking?
Best Drinks for Kids
The best drinks for children are low-fat milk and water. Milk is available as 2 percent, 1 percent or skim, and any of those options is fine. Whole milk is only recommended for kids between 12 and 24 months of age. Milk contains essential calcium and vitamin D. Three to four cups of milk daily will provide the necessary requirements for children. If your child is not drinking the required amount of milk, or is lactose-intolerant, adding a supplement containing calcium and vitamin D is recommended.
Water is the best choice for quenching thirst and providing necessary fluid. Water should not be given to infants younger than six months. Slicing fresh fruit such as oranges, strawberries or apples and letting the fruit infuse the water can add flavor to the drink. No sugar is necessary to flavor the water, as the natural sweetness of the fruit escapes. Cucumber slices give water a particularly crisp, refreshing taste. You can ask your kids for ideas on new variations. A favorite is strawberry and blueberry water. It’s even more refreshing with a sprig of fresh mint. Making your own infused water is simpler than you think and much less expensive than the store-bought variety. Kids love it!
Juice is not as healthy as many parents believe, and it should be used sparingly and limited to four to six ounces per day. The extra calories from juice may contribute to weight gain and increased dental problems. It may be best to eat fruit and drink water. Instead of apple juice, offer a sliced-up apple. Instead of orange juice, try an orange. Instead of grape juice, have some grapes.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, drinks that have been sweetened with non caloric sweeteners can be used in a healthy diet to help improve the flavor of drinks. Also, use of non calorie sweeteners can help with weight control. Compared to the calories in soda or sweetened drinks, the non caloric sweeteners offer another option for flavoring drinks while avoiding unnecessary calories. You can use non caloric sweeteners to make lemonade or iced tea, which are both refreshing and delicious.
Soda is not recommended for children, but if offered, it should be given sparingly. Some soda also contains caffeine, which can cause the same negative effects as energy drinks.
Fresh fruit smoothies are another option for children. They contain calories and should be used in moderation. It’s easy to make them at home using a blender. Throw in your favorite fruits, such as banana, strawberries and blueberries. Add some almond milk or yogurt for a creamy smoothie. Add ice and blend. Fabulous!
You should educate your children on the many alternatives to energy and sports drinks. Following the simple guidelines above will help you keep your kids healthy and happy. Now it’s time to make a pitcher of fruit-infused water!
Author/speaker Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm, DNP, CPNP, is a PNP with Pediatric Specialists and serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor with Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.