Are energy drinks good for your child?
Choose your child’s drinks as carefully as his food, advises a dietician.
There are a different types of drinks that fall into this category: high energy sports drinks and high energy nutritional supplements. High energy sports drinks include freely available beverages like Energade and Red Bull, while high energy nutritional supplemental drinks include Nutri-Mil, Ensure, Nutren and so on.

High energy nutritional supplementary drinks are nutritionally balanced in terms of their carbohydrates, protein, fats and the added vitamins and minerals.  These are normally prescribed by a dietician, doctor or health care professional and are used under supervision to achieve certain nutritional goals for example weight gain etc.

High energy sports drinks are not nutritionally balanced and were developed to replace the nutrients that one loses when they have been active. In other words, they are supposed to give the body an energy boost when it is too tired and needs to be replenished. The main sources of this energy are sugar and caffeine.

Not intended for children

These products were initially aimed at adults but lately it has become common practice for parents to pack them in lunch boxes and you see children walking around sipping away at them.

These are not recommended for children below 10 years of age. Here’s why:
  • Sports drinks contain high levels of sugar which are really empty calories if you are not going to be burning them during exercise. In excess it can lead to weight gain in children which in a country like South Africa where there is a rise in childhood obesity, is not desirable. It’s also a contributing factor in dental cavities.
  • Caffeine, found in coffee, is also present in high amounts in most sport drinks. A glass of some of these sports drinks is said to be equal in caffeine content to a cup of coffee. Most parents do not allow their children to drink coffee but allow them to drink high energy sports drinks.
  • Caffeine is a widely used stimulant and when taken in large quantities regularly can become addictive. This is highly undesirable in children as it can cause headaches, restlessness and anxiety.  Caffeine is also a diuretic which means that it causes frequent urination and can make dehydration worse in a child who is already losing fluid through sweating during a high intensity exercise session!
  • Most sports drinks contain herbal and other ingredients whose safety in children may not have been established. Remember that children are smaller and the effects of certain ingredients could be magnified in them.
  • Also on the market are vitamin waters that are flavoured water with any combination of vitamins and minerals. They may contain herbal ingredients and artificial sweeteners which are undesirable in children. You are forgiven as a parent if you think vitamin waters are a quick way to fill any nutrition gaps in your child's diet, but these nutrients can come from a healthy meal or snack, too.
  • Also, they can provide too much of a good thing, particularly if your child already takes a daily multivitamin. Taking in more than the (RDA) recommended daily allowance of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful to a child's health. Make sure that the daily allowances listed on the label are recommendations for children and not for adults as RDAs for adults and children differ quite a bit.

Remember that the best place for your child to get daily nutrients is from balanced meals. If you're concerned that your child isn't getting enough, talk to your child's health care practitioner, who will use a number of measurements to test whether your child is growing up as well as his or her peers.

What do your children usually drink?

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