Does the summer sun have you feeling extra thirsty? Me, too. When I’m thirsty, I want to choose something that’s refreshing and hydrating, but with so many different beverage options, it’s difficult to know what the healthiest selection is. Let’s navigate the sea of beverage choices that are available for you and your child.
Gold Medal Winner: Water
Water itself may sound like a boring and obvious choice, but its benefits are insurmountable. Water restores the fluids in your body that are lost through metabolism, excretion (sweating) and breathing. One of water’s most important jobs is to cool the body. During the summer months, your body requires more replacement fluids and cooling methods than at other times throughout the year. The cool thing is, your body could live off water alone (and food, of course), but no other beverages are really necessary to survive and thrive. Another benefit of water is that it’s virtually costless. Imagine how much you could save not buying that daily high-end coffee drink or not stopping by the vending machine for your afternoon sugar kick.
I always encourage parents to continue to provide and promote water even if their child doesn’t care for it. It’s so important to the body that you just can’t go without it. Try adding fruit and herbs, like lemon, berries and mint, to make infused water. Kids can choose which add-ins they want to use to flavor the water and make their own creations. While you’re working on getting your kids to enjoy drinking more water, here are some other acceptable hydration options:
- Sparkling waters: Choose sparkling waters that are naturally flavored.
- Unsweetened iced tea: Tea has been shown to have numerous health benefits due to its antioxidant content, and it can be a great form of hydration. There are a variety of teas to choose from, but note that decaffeinated tea will be more hydrating that caffeinated.
- Milk or unsweetened milk alternatives: Although milk doesn’t seem like the most hydrating drink of choice in the summer, it’s a beneficial beverage full of protein, calcium and vitamin D. White milk has a natural sugar that’s OK to include daily.
- Sugar-free drinks (in moderation): Choose sugar-free drinks as an enhancement to your daily water intake, but not as a complete replacement. Choose drinks sweetened with more natural artificial sweeteners, like Stevia.
Leave These Out of the Running
- Sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda pop, lemonade, fruit punch drinks and sweet tea: These drinks provide zero nutritional benefit. They increase the risk of weight gain and associated diseases.
- Juice: Surprised to find juice in this category? There’s little room for it in your child’s (or anyone else’s) diet. Recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatricsrecommend no juice for any children under 1 year old, and suggest limiting juice to a maximum of 4 to 8 ounces per day for toddlers through adolescents. All the nutrients you receive from juice, you can get from eating a serving of fruit. Therefore, juice is an unnecessary addition to a hydration plan. The serving of actual fruit will also provide you with dietary fiber, which keeps you full and helps control blood sugar spikes. When juice is made, even 100 percent juice or juicing yourself at home, the fiber is stripped from the juice and all you’re left with is sugar.
- Energy drinks: Much like pop and lemonade, energy drinks are a giant blood sugar spike just waiting to happen. Additionally, the caffeine is a stimulant and not recommended for children, especially the excessive amounts in energy drinks.
- Coffee drinks: In addition to the caffeine concern for children, coffee drinks are typically loaded with sugary syrups and high-fat milks, and potentially whipped cream on top. You may think you’re getting an afternoon pick-me-up with that delicious frozen drink, but really, you’re getting a mega-dose of sugar that will leave you feeling sluggish shortly after. A healthier choice (for adults or adolescents only) would be a hot or iced coffee with milk or a milk alternative added.
Many people don’t realize how many calories are in the above beverages. Most of these drinks are classified as “empty calories” because they provide no nutrients for your body. In addition, 100 percent of the calories come from sugar; therefore, they’re not appropriate choices to hydrate your body or to promote a healthy body weight. Take a look at this sample day below to learn just how much those sugar-sweetened beverages can add up:
- Breakfast: medium iced-coffee drink with cream and sugar – 150 calories
- Lunch: 12 ounces soda – 140 calories
- Mid-afternoon: 16 ounces lemonade – 220 calories
- Dinner: water – 0 calories
- After baseball practice: 20-ounce sports drink – 130 calories
Total calories from beverages: 640 calories. This intake from what one may think is just a simple day would equal nearly 40 percent of a 10-year-old child’s daily energy needs – from beverages alone.
The Skinny on Sports Drinks
Sports drinks or electrolyte-containing beverages can be incorporated into a healthy hydration plan if your child is exercising for more than 60 minutes. When kids are highly active and burning calories, these fluid replacement drinks are beneficial due to the added carbohydrates and electrolytes. However, if physical activity is less than that time period, water is enough to hydrate and replace all fluid losses. Sports drinks add to daily calorie and sugar intake in a large amount, just as any other sugar-sweetened beverage does. One bottle of a typical, 20-ounce sports drink contains approximately 34 grams of sugar – which is more than the sugar content of a full-size candy bar (around 27 grams).
Smoothies are a highly consumed beverage, particularly in the summer, and they are a great way to get in some fruit and veggie servings. However, commercial smoothies, either pre-bottled or from your local smoothie shop, often contain added sugars from juices, frozen yogurts, honey or other additives. One medium smoothie contains about 60 grams of sugar, much of which is added sugar. To create a healthier smoothie, try making one at home and use water or milk as your liquid in place of juice. You can always ask at the smoothie shop to swap out the juice and frozen yogurt for low-fat milk or unsweetened milk alternatives.