It is easy to get caught up making sure your child is eating the right foods, and having a well-balanced diet, and forget to consider what types of beverages they are consuming alongside their food.  Childhood obesity rates and cases of type 2 diabetes have been on the rise, with the primary contributor often being empty carbs in the form of added sugar in the sweetened beverages they are consuming.  These extra calories are showing negative impacts on children’s waistline and their overall health.  However, added sugars are not the only thing to be mindful of! After reading this you may be asking yourself, besides water, what is left for my child to drink?  Really, it is all about moderation and making the best choices of what is out there.  It is unrealistic to think we can’t eliminate sugars from our kid’s diets entirely, but what we can do is try to limit the amounts of sugar-filled products they consume, by offering the healthiest options we can alongside their balanced nutrition filled foods!

1. Energy Drinks

Of the many energy drink options out there, you would be hard-pressed to find one that has any sort of nutritional value.  In addition to the large amounts of caffeine in these drinks, they are loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners.  Some varieties may even contain herbs that are not safe for children and could pose serious health risks.

Because of their smaller bodies, children generally do not have the tolerance for caffeine that many adults have.  This makes them more susceptible to the potentially dangerous side effects of consuming these beverages such as racing heart and heart rhythm disturbances, that are serious enough to send your child to the hospital.  Some other side effect could include diarrhea, vomiting, impulsive behavior, anxiety, and sleep interference.  Energy drinks may claim to improve concentration and boost alertness, but with all the sweeteners added, the good-taste may lead to over-consumption and potential caffeine overdose. Best to keep these out of reach of your children.

2. Sports Drinks

Sports drinks are made to give endurance athletes an extra boost and replenish electrolytes that are lost through sweating.  What most people may not know is that sugar will actually slow you down if you are running a race less than 12 miles.  Drinking water or eating a slightly salty snack would better refuel you than drinking a sports drink after an intense endurance workout, which let’s face it, most kids activity level would not fall under this category.  

Most sports drinks have no nutritional value and contain empty calories from the added sugars, which contribute to obesity and cavities!  Not to mention, they often contain artificial colors and flavors which are also not good for your kiddos.  These drinks also contain extra sodium, which your children do not require.  Water wins out on the best-hydrating beverage, hands down!

3. Herbal and Non-Herbal Teas

There are two types of teas: herbal and non-herbal, with the latter consisting of black, green and oolong teas.  Regular teas (green or black) contain antioxidants, which are beneficial, but these teas also contain caffeine.  It is probably okay to your child ¼ cup (2 oz) of tea a day, but make it decaffeinated or very weakly brewed.  For additional nutritional value, you can add some whole milk!

Herbal teas may offer numerous health benefits to adults, but, what about your children?  Are herbal teas safe to be given to children?  If yes, what are the benefits they would provide to your child?  There’s a lot to consider!  Some herbal teas may be safe, but some may have potentially undesirable effects or toxic effects on your child.  It would be best for you to contact your pediatrician before providing any herbal remedy to your child, whether it is tea, oil or in supplement form.

4. Coffee

I hope that this one goes without saying, coffee is definitely high on the list of beverages that are not good for children.  If your body is still growing, caffeine can really take a toll.  Coffee can cause an elevated heart rate and increase in blood pressure for your child.  It can also cause them to become agitated, fidgety or irritable.

You may not be pouring your kid a cup of this beany brew, but limiting caffeine for kids, in general, is important.  It is also important to remember that they may be still getting plenty of caffeine from surprising sources like ice creams or sodas.  Some guidelines recommend for only 45 mg of caffeine per day, which a glass of soda may already have more than that!  

5. Sodas

It should come as no surprise to see soda on the list of worst beverages for children!  Soda has absolutely no nutritional value and is loaded with sugar (or artificial sweeteners), colors and flavors. Cola can contain 182 calories and 44 grams of sugar per 12 oz serving!  Not far off from that, tonic water contains 124 calories and a whopping 32 grams of sugar — that is 8 teaspoons!  Don’t let its name fool you.

If your child enjoys carbonated beverages, try serving up some sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon, or a splash of juice for some extra flavor. Still, try to limit the juice consumption to only 6 oz a day.

6. Lemonade

Homemade or store bought, it’s hard to avoid the copious amounts of sugar or artificial sweetener used in its preparation. Although lemonade is high in vitamin C, it may not be the best beverage to offer your little one for a few reasons, especially when it comes to their dental health!

Acidic foods and drinks can be dangerous, as acids erode your teeth’s enamel, which causes cavities and tooth decay.  Weakened enamel can also lead to a variety of other problems such as sensitivity and discolored teeth. Sugar is bad for teeth too.  The bad bacteria in the mouth feeds on sugars to create acids — which cause infections like cavities.  It is important not to let sugars or acids linger in your mouth for a long time.  So, brushing your teeth after meals or at least drinking a glass of water, is crucial!  Remember, if you do make your own lemonade or limeade, try to include the pulp for added fiber and nutrition.

7. Tomato and Vegetable Juice

Although the juice-form can be an easier way for making sure your kids are getting the recommended daily servings of their vegetables, it is important to read the ingredients label on these veggie drinks!  Some vegetable juices can contain more than half of a child’s daily recommended sodium allowance in only one serving.

Choose a low-sodium version, if possible, or if your child doesn’t have issues with eating the whole vegetable, then serve it up in that form, since most of the fiber and nutrients are lost in the juicing process.  

8. Coconut Milk

When being stacked up against whole cow’s milk, coconut milk contains fewer nutrients and less protein.  If you are using coconut milk as a substitute for cow’s milk for a dietary restriction reason, try to choose a product that is fortified with calcium and vitamins A, B12, and D.

Coconut milk may have more saturated fat than cow’s milk, while others may contain less, so read the labels!  Try to steer clear of sweetened varieties and flavored versions, like pineapple or mango, which can contain more than 30 grams of sugar in a 16-oz serving!

9. Almond Milk

Almond milk is yet another cow’s milk alternative which has grown in popularity.  Like coconut milk, almond milk contains less protein and fewer nutrients than cow’s milk.  Not only that, it’s often flavored and sweetened to make it more palatable. However, if almond milk still wins out in your household over whole cow’s milk, try to make the most of it by choosing a product that is fortified with calcium, Vitamin A, B12, and D.

Also, don’t shy away from the higher fat options.  It is especially important to get the whole-fat version (not the nonfat or low-fat) for your kids if they are under 2 years old.  The higher fat content is essential for their developing of bones and brains.

10. Soy Milk

Soy milk is an acceptable alternative to cow’s milk, but it still contains fewer nutrients.  For children who drink soy milk instead of cow’s milk, their pediatrician may recommend they take a vitamin supplement or ensure they are getting the nutrients missing from the soy beverage, or that you choose a brand that is fortified with calcium and vitamins A, B12, and D.

Again, avoid nonfat and low-fat varieties, and opt for the whole-fat version for children under 2.  Avoid flavored varieties that tend to contain added sugars.  On a positive note, soy milk contains no saturated fat or cholesterol, and some varieties may be enriched with omega-3 fats which are great for your child’s heart health and brain development.

11. Yogurt Drinks

Most drinkable yogurt products contain the same nutrients as found in cow’s milk, however, it is important to read the label.  Some cultured dairy beverages are made with live bacteria cultures which may aid in digestion as well as protect the body from harmful gut bacteria.  If you are interested in these products for their probiotics — it is very important to read the labels, because some varieties may not contain enough bacteria in one serving to make a positive difference on your child’s health.  

Yogurt only contains probiotics if the label specifies that it “contains active, live cultures”.  Any type of pasteurization or sterilization kills the bacteria, rendering it useless.  Organic varieties tend to be best since they are typically not heat-treated after fermentation.  Be sure to read the label for sugar content as well.  A small bottle may contain as much as 26 gm of sugar!  Remember to keep away from the nonfat varieties, and opt for full-fat versions that are fortified with vitamin D.

12. Lactose-free Milks

Some beverages that are advertised as lactose-free milk don’t actually contain any cow’s milk at all.  Instead, manufacturers may use soybeans, rice, almonds and other foods to produce a fluid they call milk.

This type of lactose-free milk does not have the same nutritional benefits as drinking a glass of cow’s milk.  It is important to read the label to see what the calcium content is, and to ensure that it has been fortified with Vitamin D, in order to help absorb the calcium it does contain.

13. Fat-Free and Low-fat Cow’s Milk

Less is not more when it comes to milk fats.  Some studies have shown that because lower-fat milk is less satiating than whole milk, it is more likely that your child will make up for it by eating more starchy, sugary, refined foods.  This not only leads to weight gain but also raises triglyceride levels, which can be more harmful to your child’s heart health than the saturated fat found in whole milk.

Most milk products you will notice are fortified with vitamin D for one important reason — to aid in calcium absorption.  Vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning you need fat in order to absorb it.  When you drink whole milk, you get the package deal, whereas if you were drinking skim milk on its own, this limits your body’s ability to absorb the Vitamin D.  If your kid prefers the taste of skim milk, make sure he or she eats something that contains fat along with their glass of milk to ensure they are getting the full benefits of the Vitamin D.  Remember, as mentioned before, full-fat versions are best for children under the age of two, for their developing bones and brains!

14. Flavored Water

You know you can’t go wrong with plain water.  Water hydrates and helps regulate body temperature while also helping to prevent urinary tract infections and constipation.  This sugar and calorie-free option may also be a good source of fluoride, which can help with dental health!  

Parents of little ones who don’t like to drink plain water have turned to flavored waters, or water-flavoring syrups to help them get their fill!  However, these products may contain sugar or artificial sweeteners and other additives that could be harmful (caffeine, herbs).  Not to mention, this is a more expensive option.  You could easily make your own by adding slices of lemons or a splash of fruit juice to plain water.  If you do buy flavored water, choose a brand that is flavored with 100% fruit juice and does not have any added sugar or sweeteners.

15. Powdered Drink Mixes

Back in 1927, powdered drink mixes hit the shelves and were marketed as a “healthy” substitute for water because of its ingredient of artificially added vitamin C.  In actuality, powdered fruity drink mixes are nothing but a massive dose of sugar, which we know can cause an increase in insulin and inflammation.

Popular powdered drink mixes have 20 grams of sugar in a serving, and some research has shown the artificial dyes used in the mixes may cause hyperactivity in your child.  Long-term consumption of this primarily sugar-based product may increase your child’s risk of obesity, diabetes or even cancer.

16. Hot Chocolate

As nice as it sounds to cuddle up with a nice cup of hot chocolate on a chilly winter day, one 16 oz mug with whipped cream or marshmallows can contain as much as 400 calories and 43 grams of sugar!

When your kids come in from building snowmen this winter, letting them warm up with your own DIY version of hot cocoa! Start with cocoa powder and add one teaspoon of sugar, and gradually increase to taste.  This way, you can control the sweetness.  Keep in mind that one teaspoon contains 4 grams of sugar.  Try adding a dash of cinnamon or cayenne to add even more flavor, which will also allow you to use less sugar.  Enjoy with warm whole milk for extra creaminess and nutrition.  

17. Chocolate Milk Syrups

When reading the entire nutrition label, what you see might shock you more than expected.  Just 1 TBSP of this sweet stuff contains 11 grams of sugar, and when mixed with 1 cup of milk, this chocolatey drink contains a whopping 23 grams of sugar!

With sugar as the first ingredient on the list, before water and cocoa, you should already know that this probably isn’t something we want our little ones to be consuming too much of!  The biggest surprise was that Red 40 and Yellow 6 is used in the coloring of the product, which research has linked to cancer! Research has also associated food dyes with problems in children including allergies, hyperactivity, learning impairment, irritability, and aggressiveness.  

18. Smoothies

A case of health food that isn’t always healthy. While smoothies are often packed with healthy fruits and yogurts, they are often also laden with sugar-filled purees and juices.  All the calories and sugars in them can very quickly add up, leading to blood sugar spikes and crashes.  We sometimes assume that they are healthy, and often they can be…but some may be more so than others. 

It is best to make your own smoothies, to best control what it is your child will be consuming.  Try adding a handful of spinach which is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals such as, Vitamin K, A, C, calcium, folate, iron, and potassium – to name a few.  It is also a very good source of dietary fiber and protein.  It really is a super-food!  When mixed with the fruit, they won’t even know it’s in there!

19. Sweetened Iced Tea

Despite tea containing antioxidants, the syrupy-sweet iced teas can contain over 30 grams of sugar in just one bottle.  It’s more like a dessert than a drink.  Unsweetened iced tea is your best choice since it contains zero added sugar.  

If you are offering this up this steeped beverage to your child, remember to keep it a weak brew, and limit to only 2 oz to ensure the caffeine isn’t too much for them.  Flavour the tea with a squeeze of lemon, for an extra flavor boost!

20. Fruit Juices & Juice Cocktails

We’ve said it before and we will say it again, eating the whole fruit is the best way to get all the fiber, vitamins and nutrients the fruit has to offer.  When juicing we are only left with the sugars from the fruit, and very little else.  Try to limit the amount of fruit juice your child consumes to 6 oz a day.  Pulp in is best, for extra fiber!

Fruit Juice Cocktails can be very deceiving products.  Some of these products may contain no actual fruit juice at all!  They are often filled with sugar, artificial sweeteners, preservatives – to increase their shelf-life, and are composed of using water and artificial flavors and coloring.

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