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Posted at 11:55 AM ET, 05/30/2011

Report: Kids should stick to water, low-fat milk

If you wonder what kinds of beverages you should allow your kids to drink, a report published Monday morning in the journal Pediatrics makes things crystal clear:

Given the current epidemic of childhood overweight and obesity, we recommend the elimination of calorie-containing beverages from a well-balanced diet, with the exception of low-fat or fat-free milk, because it contains calcium and vitamin D, which are particularly important for young people.

That’s just one of many useful nuggets of information from the report’s informative review of sports and energy drinks, the differences between the two and the way they should and, more important, shouldn’t be consumed.

In short, the report, by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, notes that sports drinks and energy drinks are not interchangeable and that most kids shouldn’t drink either of them, ever.

Sports beverages (and the related sports recovery drinks) offer water, electrolytes and carbohydrates. Though they come in reduced-calorie varieties, most do contain some calories. As noted above, most kids should entirely avoid caloric beverages (except low- or nonfat milk) such as sports beverages and caloric soft drinks, the report explains. They should get the nutrients and calories they need from healthful foods and avoid the empty calories those drinks supply.

Energy drinks are sources of caffeine and related substances that may boost “energy” not by virtue of any carbs they contain but by serving as stimulants. The report says that not only do kids have no need for caffeine, it can in fact be harmful to them, especially in the quantities served up in these drinks (whose caffeine content is notoriously hard to pin down by reading the nutrition facts on the can).

Sports drinks may have a place in hydrating elite child athletes who have long bouts of physical activity in hot, humid conditions. The athletes may need some help replenishing not only fluid but also electrolytes and carbohydrates. Outside of that very limited use, though, the report nixes both sports and energy drinks for most kids.

I understand the need to sort through and clarify the issues surrounding sports and energy drinks and to offer guidelines governing their use. But sometimes reports such as these sound as though they’re written by folks who have no kids of their own — or who maybe have never even met a kid. In my experience, the more you forbid a kid to drink Gatorade or Monster, the more that kid’s going to want to drink five bottles of each.

I have grappled with the whole energy drink thing with my own 14-year-old son. We decided to let him drink an occasional Monster, and there were times when we even allowed a four-pack in the house. But his friends didn’t approve, and though he never came out and said it, he never really liked the stuff all that much. He hasn’t asked for one for months.

As for Gatorade and the like, nothing tastes quite as satisfying after you’ve mowed the lawn in the hot sun. Sure, water might be a better choice most of the time. But I don’t see the harm in allowing a reduced-calorie bottle of Gatorade once in a while.

How about you? Are your kids interested in these beverages? How do you handle that in your household?

By  |  11:55 AM ET, 05/30/2011

 
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