Over the past 30 years, beverage options have expanded. Once upon a time, the main choices included milk, soft drinks, fruit juice, drink mixes, fruit teas, tea, hot/cold cocoa, and bottled water. Fast forward to current times–that list now includes an addition of sports drinks, energy drinks, smoothies, and plant-based beverages. In the 1970’s, sugary drinks made up 4% of daily calories consumed, and by 2001, that occurrence increased to 9%. Specifically, the percentage of daily calories for children and adults which came from sugar-sweetened drinks from 2011 to 2014 was about 7%. The figure was somewhat higher for boys (compared with girls) and for men (compared with women). The size of soft drink cans has also increased from 6.5 ounces before the 1950’s to 12 ounces in 1960. In the 1990’s, the 20-ounce bottle became common, and in current times, 1-liter or even larger-sized bottles are readily available.
Childhood obesity, a high-risk health concern, continues to be on the rise. Many factors have led to this increase, but one of them is the calories consumed through food and drinks. Per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars make up 270, or over 13%, of the calories consumed per day. Children, teens and young adults consume some of the largest amounts of added sugar. Beverages make up almost half of all added sugars consumed. By consuming drinks with added sugars, the health risks add up to include increased weight and risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
It can be challenging to know what to drink with so many options, but teaching children and teens how to make better choices can have lasting effects on their health.
- One key tip is serving size. Over the years, container sizes have increased, and by having one serving, you may not be consuming the entire container.
- A second key tip is to limit added sugars, which can be found on the label listed as high fructose corn syrup, molasses or raw sugar. They offer added calories and no added nutritional benefit, unlike cow’s milk, which offers calcium, vitamin D, and potassium (three of the four nutrients of health concern), as well as lactose, a naturally occurring sugar.
- A third tip is to read the ingredients! Through marketing strategies, many beverages appear to be better for you than they are. Added sugars, calories and long lists of unpronounceable ingredients don’t measure up to naturally occurring and nutrient-rich beverages choices.
While sugary sodas provide no nutritional benefits, they can provide an extra five pounds of weight gain in a year from just one serving a day. A better choice would be infusing flavor into water. By adding lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit slices, crushed mint, sliced cucumber, peeled and sliced fresh ginger or crushed berries, you can add flavor, adequate hydration, and a boost of nutrition to a glass of water. Sports drinks provide carbohydrates, electrolytes and hydration for high intensity workouts lasting an hour or more. If you consume these drinks without this level of intensity, all they do is provide extra sugar, salt and calories. A better drink of choice to pair with a meal, have as a snack, or use for athletic recovery is cow’s milk. White or flavored milk provides 9 essential nutrients in every glass, and only 4% of the added sugars in kids’ diets come from flavored milk. Milk is great fuel to help replenish fluid and electrolytes after activity and support bone health to reduce the risk of stress fractures. If you are lactose intolerant, it does not mean you will miss out on this powerhouse of nutrition. Choosing lactose-free milk in tolerable amounts is a better choice than non-dairy milks. Dairy milk has just three simple ingredients compared to non-dairy milks, which often have over 10 added ingredients, including sugar, salt, stabilizers, emulsifiers and gums. Every 8-oz glass of dairy milk provides eight grams of naturally occurring high-quality protein and eight times more protein than almond, rice or coconut non-dairy drinks.
Is it time to rethink your drink? Making sure you choose appropriate serving sizes, limit added sugars, and select drinks with nutrition benefits, will help ensure that the beverage choices you pair with meals, snacks, and activity will keep you at your best. It’s easy to make a quick choice of what you pour in a glass or select when on-the-go, but making sure children and teens learn from an early age to make healthier choices with their beverages will lead to health benefits for life. Included below is a quick guide to help compare a few beverage options and how their nutrition facts stack up.
Lori Johnson MS, RD, LD/N, Nutrition Manager, Dairy Council of Florida
Think Your Drink (PDF)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
Cantor, J. & Smith, R. (2018). 30 Years in Beverages [PDF File]
Harvard T.H.Chan, School of Public Health, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/sugary-drinks
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html