Health

There Are Only Four Things Young Kids Should Drink

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The new recommendations are short and simple

Robert Roy Britt
Photo: RUNSTUDIO/Getty Images

SSeveral leading medical and nutrition organizations just issued new recommendations on what the youngest children — infants through age five — should be drinking.

On the list: breast milk, infant formula, water, and plain milk.

Not on the list: juice or anything else.

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The reasons: Sugar-laden beverages, even real juice, are bad for teeth and known to be a key contributor to the nation’s growing obesity epidemic, as well as deadly heart disease. Given that kids’ drinking patterns can be established early on, since they take a liking to whatever wonderful flavor is thrust upon them, curbing sugar from the start has real impact.

“Nearly 40,000 people in the United States die each year from heart problems due to overconsumption of sugary drinks,” says Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, one of the groups supporting the new recommendations. “This is unhealthy and unacceptable, and the seismic shift in our culture needed to change this status quo must start with our kids.”

Sugar-laden beverages, even real juice, are bad for teeth and known to be a key contributor to the nation’s growing obesity epidemic, as well as deadly heart disease.

The new recommendations suggest only breast milk or formula for infants up to six months. From six to 12 months, small sips of water can be introduced. Children ages 1 to 3 years can drink one to four cups of water a day.

Cow’s milk can be introduced only when a child is a year old, experts say, and is best done in consultation with a pediatrician. It should be low-fat or skim, and not flavored or sweetened. The full guidelines — which also advise against nondairy milk products like almond, rice, and oat milk, due to their lack of nutrition — are here.

What? All juice is bad?

Juice, even 100% real juice, is loaded with natural sugar, but robbed of the fiber that comes with the fruits from which it’s made. “Fiber helps regulate blood glucose metabolism,” pediatrician Karen Vargo said back in 2017, when the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its advice on juice. “When you drink pure juice, your blood glucose goes way up, because there’s no fiber to counter all the sugar in the juice.”

A 12-ounce glass of real orange juice (that would be a tall glass, more than one cup) has the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar, Harvard researchers say. A tall glass of cranberry juice cocktail (the stuff that’s not real juice but looks like it given the clever labels) has about 12 teaspoons of sugar. Water, of course, has zero sugar.

“As a pediatrician, I know what a child drinks can be almost as important as what they eat, in terms of a healthy diet. This is especially true for very young children,” says Natalie Muth, who represented the American Academy of Pediatrics on the expert panel that issued the new recommendations.

“We know that children learn what flavors they prefer at a very early age — as young as nine months — and these preferences can last through childhood and adulthood.”

If you must give a kid juice, experts say, make sure it’s 100% real juice, do it at specific times — during a meal or snack, for example — and limit the amount. And don’t use sippy cups, which can cause speech problems.

“Choosing drinks wisely for your child is crucial to good oral health; that’s why we talk about it during the age-one dental visit,” says Kevin Donly, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, another contributor to the new guidelines. “A child with a healthy smile can eat, speak, play, and learn more easily than a child suffering from tooth decay.”

The same advice goes for you

The recommendations (perhaps sans the breast milk) work for older kids and adults, too. A mountain of evidence has proven that sugary drinks are the devil when it comes to living a long, healthy life.

Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soda and juice contributes to the development of diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health problems, according to a 2017 review of studies on the topic detailed in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

Sweetened beverages are also linked to higher rates of depression, according to a study that questioned 263,925 people age 50 and up over a 10-year period. Those who drank four sodas a day were 30% more likely to develop depression than those who had none.

People who drink sweetened beverages tend to eat less fruit, vegetables, yogurt, fiber-rich bread, and fish, another study found. And even those who prefer diet beverages still manage to eat plenty of bad food, .

A study of 22,000 U.S. adults found that people who drink diet beverages seem to compensate for the absence of calories by loading up on food packed with sugar, sodium, fat, and cholesterol. “It may be that people who consume diet beverages feel justified in eating more, so they reach for a muffin or a bag of chips,” said study leader Ruopeng An, a kinesiology and community health professor at the University of Illinois. “Or perhaps, in order to feel satisfied, they feel compelled to eat more of these high-calorie foods.”

Research earlier this year found that children and teens who drink low-calorie sweetened beverages consume an extra 200 calories a day when compared to those who drink water. “Our findings suggest that water should be recommended as the best choice for kids and teens,” said study leader Allison Sylvetsky, an assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Sugary drinks are, in fact, a life-and-death matter.

A study this month in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, involving data on 451,743 people, found that two daily servings of sweetened soft drinks — whether sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners — was linked to higher risk of death when compared to people who abstain from them.

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