What are they drinking?

By Fredric Fink, MD

A child drinking water

During the summer, when kids always seem to be hot and thirsty, it’s especially important to make sure their drinks are healthy. The following information can help you make smart decisions in the grocery store and the snack bar.

Water: Water is the most important thirst-quencher for your child. It is a natural beverage that isn’t supplemented with sweeteners or caffeine. Add slices of lemon or lime to make it more appealing. But don’t give water to a child less than a year old without consulting your pediatrician first. Babies get all the water they need through breast milk or formula, and too much water in an infant’s diet can be very dangerous.

Soda: Twenty years ago, boys consumed twice as much milk as soft drinks, and girls consumed 50 percent more milk than soft drinks. Now, boys and girls consume twice as much soda as milk. And that means they’re drinking lots of sugar. One can of cola has almost 11 teaspoons of sugar, 162 calories, and as much caffeine as 8 ounces of brewed tea. Limit sodas to an occasional treat, and opt for caffeine-free diet versions.

Sports drinks: Sports drinks such as Powerade and Gatorade are designed to replenish and restore salts for those athletes who are engaged in very strenuous exercise for more than 60 to 90 minutes at a time. If your child is at an all-day outdoor sports camp, a sports drink might be a good choice. Just remember, most sports drinks contain plenty of sugar and average 50-70 calories per 8-ounce serving. For most days and athletic endeavors, water is a cheaper, healthier choice.

Energy drinks: These are little more than carbonated caffeine and sugar delivery systems marketed to teens. Red Bulls and Amps, for instance, have about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of instant coffee. That’s enough for a teen who drinks them regularly to get hooked on caffeine. Also, caffeine is a diuretic, causing your body to lose water. These are not good choices for youngsters.

A child drinking juice

Fruit juice and fruit drinks: Fruit juice is a healthy beverage for children, but make sure you’re buying 100 percent fruit juice. Many “juice drinks” contain as little as 10 percent juice and are supplemented with sweeteners.

The problem with juice is that many children like it so much they’ll drink it all day. Too much juice can lead to tooth decay, diarrhea, malnutrition or obesity. Limit your infant’s juice intake to 4 to 6 ounces per day, and don’t give infants younger than 6 months any juice at all. Serve juice with meals and snacks.

Milk: Milk is one of the best beverage choices for children over one year of age. Once your baby is a year old, you can give him whole or two percent milk. Limit his milk intake to 24 ounces a day. More than that can provide too many calories and decrease his appetite for food. After the age of 2, he can have other reduced-fat milks; he’ll get the nutrients without the added fat and calories.

Dr. Fink practices with CHKD Health System’s Pediatric Specialists.