Fall 2011
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Choose Drinks Wisely


We want our kids to eat well, but what they are drinking is just as important to their wellbeing. Health professionals continue to stress that water and low-fat or fat-free milk are the most nutritious drink choices for kids. However, the convenience of pre-packaged, individual drinks is appealing in our on-the-go culture. And many of these drinks can be high in sugar, calories and other ingredients we never bargained for.

While the sale of sports drinks and energy drinks continues to increase, it is important to know the difference between the two. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade, are intended to replenish water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. In contrast, energy drinks, like Red Bull, Monster Energy, Rockstar and 5-hour Energy, contain caffeine and other substances that act as stimulants.

Energy drinks have never been allowed on Austin ISD campuses. And with the exception of teacher lounges, sodas were eliminated from all campuses in August 2003. Milk, water and 100 percent juice are allowed in elementary, middle and high schools. Sports drinks are only allowed at middle schools and high schools and must have less than 30 grams of sugar per serving.

The Truth About Energy Drinks

Many health professionals are worried about highly caffeinated energy drinks that are increasingly popular among teens and young adults. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an average energy drink contains 70 to 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce serving, which is about three times the amount in a soft drink. And many of these drinks derive additional caffeine from other ingredients, like kola nut, cocoa and guarana.

Caffeine can increase heart rate, anxiety and the risk for arrhythmia. Energy drinks also contain chemicals and herbs not regulated by the FDA, like ginseng. These combinations are not well studied and it's unclear how they could react together in the body. And just as with medicine, kids may react differently or to a smaller dosage than adults. Children and young adults who take medications or have chronic illnesses may be susceptible to reactions or complications, including heart palpitations, high blood pressure and even cardiac arrest.

Manufacturers have labeled energy drinks as dietary supplements, which mean they follow the same regulations as foods under the Food and Drug Administration. These regulations are less strict than if they were regulated as a drug.

"Energy drinks are not appropriate for children," said Lauren Oliver, clinical dietitian with the Texas Center for the Treatment and Prevention of Childhood Obesity at Dell Children's Medical Center. "Caffeine and other stimulants are not necessary and could have undesired effects. Sports drinks are only appropriate for children who undergo 90 minutes or more of moderate to intense physical activity. If sports drinks are used as a go-to beverage, at snack and meal time, children are more likely to intake excess sugar and calories."

What to Look For

As with packaged food products, be sure to read the labels of drinks to know what you're consuming. Check the serving size – many bottled drinks contain more than 1 serving per container.

Also look for grams of sugar and what ingredients that sugar comes from. Labels only list total sugars, they do not differentiate between naturally occurring fruit sugars and added sugars, but the ingredients list will include the source.

The best drinks for kids are water, low-fat or fat-free milk, and limited amounts of 100 percent fruit juice. If you're looking for alternatives, Oliver suggests sugar-free flavored waters or flavoring your own water by adding fruit slices, like lemon or orange.


Good Health for Kids is produced by Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.