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What Kids Drink Is Important, Too

If your children fill up on high-calorie fruit drinks and soft drinks, they may skip food containing essential nutrients—and pack on extra pounds. That's what one recent study concluded about kids who drink a lot of juice and turn out shorter or heavier than average.

Over the past three decades, children started drinking more carbonated soft drinks and noncitrus food drinks and less water and milk. Here are some disturbing facts about soft drinks:

  • Soft drinks don't satisfy the appetite, so preteens and teens tend to eat a normal amount of food in addition to the calories they take in through soda.

  • Many soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which may lead to a loss of calcium. (This is a double whammy, because preteens and teens who drink soda aren't getting the calcium they need from milk.)

  • Nondiet soft drinks contain high-fructose corn syrup. This sweetener may be associated with an increase in metabolic syndrome—a precursor to diabetes—in teens. 

What should be the drink of champions among kids? Water or milk. To add more pizzazz to plain water, buy low-calorie flavored water or make your own with lemon or lime. Steer your kids toward skim or 1% milk. Preschoolers need three cups of milk every day. In addition to calcium, fortified milk is a great source of protein, and vitamins A and D. Stick with pure citrus juice (orange and grapefruit, calcium fortified but without added sugar). It contains high amounts of vitamin C. Although many children love apple juice, it is high in natural sugar and excessive amounts may cause diarrhea. Limit the amount or dilute it with water.

An 8-ounce serving of apple juice contains about 120 calories. Other juices rank even higher: grape juice (155 calories), cranberry juice (145) and pineapple juice (140). Orange juice has 109 calories per 8 ounces.

Calories aren't the only problem. Dentists say too many sugary drinks of any kind can cause cavities. Most of these drinks do not contain calcium, either, which is important for building strong bones and teeth.

How much your child should drink depends on climate and season. When it's hot, kids need more fluids because they lose more perspiring and breathing; they may need a drink even if they aren't thirsty. Experts recommend they get the daily equivalent of six to eight 8-ounce cups of fluids, especially water—more if they're out in the heat.