Contributor: Sara Lappe, MD
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From juice and fruit punch to flavored milk and soda, your child’s favorite sugary drink can lead to a multitude of not-so-sweet health problems, including tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
A recent study from researchers at the University of California–Davis gave more evidence toward this. After participants consumed varying prescribed levels of sweetened drinks over a two-week period, markers of cardiovascular disease worsened from baseline. If this is what happens after a two-week period, imagine what happens with years of consumption!
Since many children are so accustomed to sugary drinks, it does take time to break the bad habit. Eliminating sweetened drinks can be a big adjustment, as taste buds need to be re-trained away from the sweetness overload these drinks provide, but there are ways to ease the transition. Here are some things you and your child can do to help break the sugary drink bad habit:
- Decrease the frequency. If your child is having juice three times per day, start by cutting out one serving per day.
- Only carry water. When out and about, carry water to quench your thirst. Athletes often wonder when they need a sports drink and surprisingly, the answer is typically never!
- Water down juices. Yes, even drinks that are 100 percent juice are still loaded with sugar. Progressively add more and more water to each sweetened drink until reaching a point of almost nothing there. Caveat: This is a good starting point, but isn’t a great long-term plan.
- Stop buying sweetened drinks. Rid the house of any sweetened drinks, and take these sugary beverages off your grocery list.
- Choose unsweetened sodas. Stay away from artificially sweetened sodas and instead, look for flavored drinks without the added sugar.
- Make water easily accessible. Place a water pitcher in the refrigerator or on the counter, or put it in colorful, eye-catching water bottle or cup.
If you’ve tasted artificial sweetener, you’ve probably noticed it’s much sweeter than sugar. When drinking artificially sweetened beverages, your body is still getting a hit of that super sweet flavor, so your taste buds aren’t being re-trained. Not to mention, the data on artificial sweetener is still mixed. So what are some alternative drinks options – free of sugar or artificial sweeteners – that are both tasty and good for your health?
- Infused water. Mix in fruit — frozen or fresh– vegetables or herbs such as mint or thyme. Let it sit overnight, and in the morning you’ll have a delicious batch of infused water.
- Water alternatives. Try making unsweetened caffeine free teas such as fruit or mint teas, and don’t add any sugar.
- Unsweetened milk. Cow’s milk, almond milk, soy milk or rice milk are all fabulous choices. Three servings per day help provide adequate calcium and vitamin D.
Next time your kids are reaching for a drink, help them refrain from sipping something sweet. Their health may depend on it.
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This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic.