Thirsty? For children, water is best
NEWARK — School is out for summer, and the backyard is beckoning kids of all ages.
But after hours playing or biking in the hot sun, they’ll be standing in your kitchen looking for something cool to drink.
Instead of handing them a glass of Kool-Aid or can of pop, a tall glass of ice cold water is the healthiest, most satisfying choice, said Annmarie Thacker, a dietician with Licking Memorial Health Systems.
In the summer, kids tend to be more active. But as they move more, their consumption of sugary drinks also spikes, Thacker said.
“They tend to drink more in the summer time,” she said. “But it’s important to encourage them to drink more water.”
Sugary drinks won’t hydrate your child the way water does, and they are packed with calories that can lead to weight gain, Thacker said.
A cup of sugar added to a pitcher of juice or Kool-Aid can add 800 calories to a drink, she said. The average 12-ounce can of pop has 10 to 13 teaspoons of sugar.
Now that drinks are being served in larger containers, kids are consuming even more sugar and calories than ever with every sip.
“We see kids, and we are amazed by how many calories they are getting from their drinks,” she said. “Beverage choice can make a huge difference.”
Water and low-fat or fat-free milk are the best things for kids to drink, and in the summer, water is the most important, said Todd Kirkpatrick, director of health promotion for the Licking County Health Department.
Juice can be a healthy drink in moderation, but Kirkpatrick recommended children only drink 4 to 6 ounces of 100 percent juice a day.
“We encourage people to eat their fruit, not drink it,” he said.
Commercials and other marketing campaigns have suggested to families that sports drinks, such as Gatorade, not only will hydrate their children but also give them power and energy, Kirkpatrick said.
But those drinks were designed for older athletes that burn lots of calories in a short time, he said. A child playing soccer or T-ball isn’t burning nearly enough calories to make Gatorade helpful.
For young kids playing sports or games outside, water is the best thing.
“Peer pressure can be powerful, but don’t be afraid to give your child water and not a pretty blue bottle of Gatorade,” he said.
Energy drinks are another beverage that are best for children to avoid. Not only are they packed with artificial colors and sugar, but they also are full of caffeine.
“Kids do not need caffeine,” he said.
The best way to steer kids away from sweet, calorie-laden beverages, is to never introduce them to those drinks in the first place, Thacker said.
“If they get used to drinking more water, it actually helps them not want things that are so sweet,” she said. “If they are so used to drinking sweet drinks, then they won’t like the taste of water.”
Flavor packets that can be used to sweeten water only should be used in moderation and shouldn’t become a constant habit, Kirkpatrick said.
For a more healthy alternative, parents can flavor water with citrus fruit, cucumbers or mint, he said. They also can freeze 100 percent fruit juice and use the ice cubes to flavor the water.
Sometimes it can be as simple as storing water in the refrigerator so it’s very cold or buying your child a special cup they’ll like to drink out of, Fitzpatrick said.
“If you are truly trying to quench their thirst, water will do that,” he said.