- Created on May 21, 2015
- Written by Lisa J Lowery, Dip NT, PG Dip, BSc (Hons)
There aren't any guidelines regarding the recommended amount of fizzy drinks that a child should have, but I am sure we all know that they are not the best option. In this blog I will explore why they are not so good, and what we should be steering our children towards.
It is fairly well documented how sugar can lead to obesity due to excessive weight gain. Soft drinks have been shown to be the largest contributor to sugar intake for 4-18 year olds, with the 11-18 year old range having the highest, consuming nearly 30% of their sugar from fizzy drinks (data from the Food Standards Agency UK). As well as helping towards unhealthy weight gain, an average can of fizzy drink may have up to eight heaped teaspoons of sugar which may damage teeth.
Fizzy drinks can be addictive – the sweet taste with the added fizz pleasure, all goes towards exciting the taste buds of the drinker. This sends rewarding signals to the brain, which in turn leads to the drinker craving more of the same. It is therefore not surprising that a lot of children would rather have a can of 'pop'.
The longer you can delay your child tasting those types of drinks the better, in my opinion. Keeping them hydrated with water, diluted squash (i.e. diluted fruit juice) and even a little fruit juice, on occasion is probably better. A can of fizzy drink offers no nutritional value. Water will hydrate them the best, juice will have the benefit of some vitamins, although should be drunk in small amounts as it is fruit sugar without the fibre to slow down the energy release.
As well as the sugar, the carbon dioxide which is put into the drink to give the fizz, contributes to the acidic level of the drink when carbonic acids are formed. The manufacturers also usually add phosphoric acid and citric acid to enhance flavour. This is the same for regular and diet drinks. The phosphoric acid can also affect calcium absorption in the body, which may lead to lower bone density.
If your child really has to have that fizzy drink you can minimise the damage on their teeth by having it with food so that the food reduces the acidic effect. Also, get your child to use a straw for minimum contact with their teeth.
There is some research to indicate that just two fizzy drinks a week can increase your risk of pancreatic cancer (reported in Daily Mail, UK).
If you have a daughter, you may be interested to know that more than one sugary drink a day can cause her to start puberty early. This is due to the raise in insulin levels from the high sugar content, and subsequent raise in levels of oestrogen in the blood. An exposure to oestrogen early in life can increase the risk of breast cancer in later years.
Drinking sugary fizzy drinks regularly can skew a person's perception of a sweet sensation, and this can lead to a higher than normal craving of sweet foods. The sugar, along with the bubbles affects the 'reward area' of the brain. Clearly, a higher intake of sugar can lead to weight gain in the long-term.
There is also some evidence to suggest that the intake of high fructose corn syrup from some of these drinks is associated with asthma amongst 2-9 year olds (DeChristopher et al).
If you are fond of drinking these soft drinks yourself, be aware, the drinking of an eight ounce soft drink each day was shown to age an individual by 2 years compared to those who did not. The telomeres at the end of the chromosomes get shorter and shorter with each cell division until too short for the cell to divide. This leads to premature cell death. (Leung et al).
So, what about diet drinks – are they as bad? Well, the short answer is yes. They may not have the same amount of calories, but your body recognises the sweet taste of the artificial sugar and gets a little 'confused'. Signals are still sent for the body to store more fat with this concentrated intake of sugar. As with natural sugars, our body will still crave that sweet sensation and therefore we are drawn to sweet foods more and more.
2. Zheng et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2014) 68, 77–83; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.243; published online 27 November 2013
3. Luanne Robalo DeChristopher, Jaime Uribarri and Katherine L Tucker. Intakes of apple juice, fruit drinks and soda are associated with prevalent asthma in US chidren aged 2–9 years. Public Health Nutrition, available on CJO2015. doi:10.1017/S1368980015000865
4. Leung et al. http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2014.302151?journalCode=ajph&
Lisa J Lowery, Dip NT, PG Dip, BSc (Hons) is a Nutritional Therapist with her own practice based in Kent, England (www.nutritiontechnician.co.uk). She is a member of the British Association of Nutritional Therapists (BANT). Lisa can be contacted through her website or Facebook page www.facebook.com/NutritionTechnician.