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Ever-increasing research shows that consuming excess sugar contributes to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, certain cancers and even Alzheimer’s disease. NorthShore-affiliated Pediatrician Lynn Gettleman Chehab, MD, MPH, frequently speaks with young students about the importance of sugar moderation and developing healthy lifestyles. Dr. Chehab offers proactive tips to help your kids make smart drink and food choices.
Q: I read food labels, but what’s a safe amount of added sugar for kids? A: A good guideline is no more than 24 grams in 24 hours. But remember that large quantities of sugar are hidden in just one serving of a sweetened beverage—including soda, sports drinks, fruit juice or chocolate milk. A 12-ounce soda contains about 39 grams of sugar, and a single-serving bottle of lemonade can contain more than 50 grams.
Q: My child is involved in various sports. Are sports drinks ok?A: Sports drinks should be more of an exception than a rule. Use them for games or grueling practices in scorching weather or for tournaments where children play multiple games in a day, for instance. Sports drinks shouldn’t be consumed every day with regular activity or play, nor replace mealtime water or milk.
Q: What do you recommend for replenishing electrolytes? A: An electrolyte replacement is ok, but the added sugar is not. Many single-servings of sports drinks have over 30 grams of sugar. Hydration is important before, during and after sports, so make sure your young athlete drinks plenty of water. There also are electrolyte tablets and packets that can be added to water without all the sugar and dyes found in most sports drinks.
Q: What are some low-sugar beverage and snack choices for kids? A: Water! For variety, try non-sweetened seltzer water—there are plenty of flavor options. You also can add pieces of real fruit and make your own flavored water. A good rule for snacks is a produce plus a protein: try apples and peanut butter, hummus and veggies, cheese and fruit, plain yogurt with fruit and nuts, real corn tortilla chips and guacamole. These foods offer a sustained, steady release of nutrients without the post-sugar energy crash.