Hidden sugars can sabotage a healthy lifestyle

Q: My kids are playing basketball now. What is the best sports drink for them?

A: Water!

The best fluid replacement before, during and after exercise is water. Sports drinks seem to have become the “go-to” drink for any type of activity, but are really only recommended if kids are exercising intensely for an hour or more. While hydration is very important, the reason sports drinks may not be a healthy choice for your children is because of the added sugar.

So, what’s the big deal? It’s that we are getting bigger! There have been many reports over recent years describing the steady increase in obesity in kids, tripling from the 1970s to 2000. A significant contributor to this has been the increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB). Some examples of SSBs are sodas, juices (unless 100% juice, which contains only natural sugars found in fruit), energy drinks, sports drinks, lemonade, fruit punch, and sweetened tea and coffee, to name a few. The problem with these drinks is the amount of sugar they contain, and that they are being consumed on a regular basis by many people – kids and adults, alike.

To bring some perspective to the issue, it is important to be able to determine just how much sugar we are talking about. The recommended daily amount of sugar intake is less than 10 percent of one’s total daily calories. Four grams of sugar is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar and contains about 15 calories. One 12-ounce can of cola generally contains about 33 grams of sugar and 125 calories. So, for a moderately active 10-year-old boy, whose recommended daily caloric intake is around 1,800, this equates to 7 percent of his total. If he drinks a 13.7-ounce Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino, which has 46 grams of sugar and 290 calories, this would be over 16% of his recommended daily caloric intake from sugar. A few other examples of 12-ounce drinks and their approximate sugar and calorie counts are: fruit punch (46 grams of sugar/195 calories); orange soda (52 grams of sugar/210 calories); lemonade (25 grams of sugar/105 calories); and orange juice (30 grams of sugar/160 calories). And finally, 16 ounces of Gatorade contains 28 grams of sugar and 100 calories, in contrast to 16 ounces of water containing zero grams of sugar and zero calories.

Increased dietary sugar intake has been associated with a higher risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Alarmingly, a recent study published by Wright, Rifas-Shiman, Oken, et al, in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society found that maternal prenatal and early childhood intake of SSBs and fructose may be associated with higher rates of childhood asthma. Additionally, we all know from our dentists that eating too much sugar gives you cavities.

Sugar seems to be in everything if you carefully read food labels (and you should!). To make things difficult, sugars added to foods and drinks can have many different names. Most of us are familiar with fructose, sucrose, corn syrup and cane sugar. Many of us may not be as familiar with the following names for added sugars: maltose, anhydrous dextrose, nectar, malt syrup, lactose, maltodextrin and fruit juice concentrate. As a side note: there are also many non-caloric sweeteners that have been approved by the FDA, including acesulfame potassium, aspartame, saccharin, rebiana and sucralose. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has no official recommendation on the use of non-caloric sweeteners for kids because there have been limited studies done in children.

The best way to limit sugar intake is to encourage kids to primarily drink water and milk, reserving SSBs for special occasions or as a treat. The AAP now recommends not giving any juice to kids younger than 12 months of age, limiting intake to 4 ounces for 1-to-3-year-olds, and 4 to 6 ounces for 4-to-6-year-olds. Serving whole fruit in place of a typical dessert not only decreases sugar intake, but also helps to attain the recommended goal of consuming 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Additionally, most of us do not drink enough water. A general rule of thumb is about 8 ounces per year of age up to a maximum of 64 ounces daily, although active teens may require more.

Some great resources on nutrition may be found at:



Happy New Year! Let’s all raise a glass of water and toast to a healthy 2018!

Melissa Mason is a general pediatrician with Journey Pediatrics in Albuquerque. Please send your questions to her at melissaemason@gmail.com.


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