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7 'Healthy' Drinks for Kids ... That Aren't

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Sports drinks and flavored milk are everyday beverage choices for most kids, but are they doing more harm than good?

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Everyday Fuel

It's pretty common to see kids guzzling down both energy and sports drinks throughout a day jam-packed with school and extra-curricular activities—but these seemingly "harmless" beverages could be doing more damage than you think.

Prevent Enamel Damage

About half of all American teens drink energy drinks and nearly a third of them drink at least one sports drink per day. These so-called "healthy" drinks for kids are causing permanent damage to tooth enamel after only five days of exposure. This damage causes pain, sensitivity and makes teeth prone to cavities and decay, according to a study published in the May/June 2012 issue of General Dentistry.

So how can you protect your child's teeth and offer delicious thirst-quenchers? Poonam Jain, B.D.S., M.S., M.P.H., author of the study and Professor and Director at the SIU School of Dental Medicine, reveals safer drink options to keep your kid hydrated and healthy.

Energy Drinks

These refreshments have gained in popularity in recent years, and the study found that parents are allowing their teens to drink them in increasingly greater numbers. While these sugary, caffeinated beverages might give your teen a short-term burst of energy, they're the worst offenders for teeth, bathing your kid's mouth in enamel-destroying acid. Instead, focus on getting your child sleep, healthy food and moderate exercise—these will keep her naturally energized and refreshed. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that children never consume energy drinks, so when you're desperate opt for a natural sugar high from 100 percent juice diluted with water, in moderation.

Sports Drinks

Offering sports drinks in hotter climates may make sense, to help replace electrolytes lost through exercise, says clinical specialist dietician Daina Kalnins, MSc., RD, author of Better Food for Kids and Better Baby Food. But the high sugar content makes sports drinks a high-calorie, enamel damaging beverage. Alternatively, Kalnins suggests making your own, nutritious beverages using "juices with a little salt added, fruit smoothies with or without yogurt, and water with lemon, lime, or cucumber added."

Fruit Juice

While fruit juice is generally considered to be a more sensible option to sports and energy drinks, it's not recommended in large quantities. Juices tout high calorie counts, while the acidic content and high fructose cause cavities. Watered down juice is a great way to get all the fruity flavor while cutting out sugar and diluting the acid. Kalnins says diluted juice with a salty snack is another good alternative to a sports drink.

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Soda

It's no secret that soda isn't an ideal choice—but finding an alternative can be tricky. Soda is high in calories, empty in nutritional value, and can even encourage additional diet "don'ts" by causing cravings for sugary foods. Instead, opt for sparkling, naturally-flavored water for a carbonated kick without the junk.

Powdered Drink Mixes

These drinks typically contain large amounts of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), flavorings and colorings, all of which can aggravate food sensitivities and may make your kid hyper and excitable. Alternatively, make your own naturally flavored drinks by adding strained cantaloupe, watermelon, limes or berries to water with a few drops of honey, if needed.

Iced Tea

Although iced tea might seem healthy, check the label—a large percentage of bottled teas contain extremely high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup. Instead, Jain suggests home-brewed tea. This way, you can control exactly what ingredients go into the cup, avoiding unwanted, sugary additions.

Flavored Milk

Adding flavored syrups or powders to milk is an instant way to increase calories and sugar while simultaneously reducing the nutritional benefits—lose-lose. While flavored milk is better than acidic energy drinks or sugary refreshments, you can amp up the nutrition by making your own. Mix puréed fruit into milk for naturally sweet treat. If you don't have time to whip up your own, Kalnins suggests mixing half regular milk with half chocolate milk to cut down on the sugar content.

Be a Role Model

Finding suitable healthy drinks for kids is the easy part—convincing your child to actually drink them may be the real challenge.

"One of the most important things parents can do for their kids is provide positive role modeling," says Dr. Jain. "If parents themselves only drink water, milk, home-brewed tea or coffee and do not stock the fridge with sugary and acidic beverages, children learn to like wholesome beverages as well."

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Establish Good Habits

It might not be possible to enforce the best choice at all times, but teach your kid how to minimize the impact when he does indulge in a sugary or acidic drink. "[The] best tip to reduce their impact on teeth is to drink water or rinse with water immediately after consumption," says Jain, noting that even this tactic "may not reduce the impact these drinks have on other tissues, such as bones."

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