Healthy drinks for kids this summer

By Christina Wright-Yee, registered dietitian at CHOC

Heading into summer in Southern California means anticipating the above 100-degree temperatures, but we know what we need to do: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! While registered dietitians and doctors encourage you to drink plenty of fluids throughout the summer, we also want to help you make healthy decisions. Sodas, juices, slushies, iced coffee and sports drinks may be fluids, but they can be full of calories and sugar that can lead to weight gain, heart disease and cavities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests limiting our added sugars to less than 5% of our calorie needs. For kids ages 2-8, this is about three teaspoons per day. For kids older than age 8, it’s no more than six teaspoons per day. New research suggests even 100% fruit juices are similar to the sugars added to the soda and other sweetened beverages, meaning juice is no healthier than soda!

The amount of sugar in your favorite beverage may surprise you! One teaspoon is equivalent to one sugar packet like the ones you might find at a restaurant or café. In the below table, the serving size for all beverages is 12-ounces, even if the average serving size is typically larger.

Sugar content in your favorite drink
Type of beverage Number of packets of sugar
Water 0
Diet sodas or sugar-free drink mix 0
Powerade Zero or Propel 0
“Light” Sodas 0-2
Unsweetened tea 0
G2 Gatorade 2.5
Sports drink (Gatorade/Powerade) 5
Lemonade 6.25
Orange juice 7.5
Snapple iced/sweet tea 8-8.5
Powdered drink mix (with sugar) 9
Cola soda 10.25
Fruit punch 11.5
Root beer 11.5
Grape juice/cranberry juice cocktail 12
Orange soda 13
Starbucks Frappuccino 14
Naked/Odwalla Juices 12-14

Remember to always read the nutrition facts label to find out the actual amount of sugars and added sugars. When choosing a drink for you or your kids this summer, you might see the terms sugar-free, reduced sugar or no added sugars. Here’s what they mean:

  • Sugar free: less than 0.5g sugar per serving
  • Reduced sugar: less than 25% less sugar than the typical brand, but this doesn’t mean it is always the healthiest option. There still might be other beverage options lower in sugar.
  • No added sugars or without added sugars: no sugar added during processing, but the product may have naturally occurring sugars.

What can you do to stay hydrated and healthy this summer while quenching your thirst?

  • Swap out your favorite drink for one lower in sugar
  • Eat nutrient-rich juicy fruits and vegetables that contain more than 90% water, including: watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, frozen grapes, pineapple, grapefruit, berries, cauliflower, bell peppers, broccoli and tomatoes. Just watch portion sizes!
  • Make your own popsicles using fresh fruits and veggies
  • Add mint and lemon to an ice cube tray and freeze with water, then pop them into water or sparkling water for added refreshment!
  • Add lemon, lime, mint, strawberries, cucumbers or berries to sparkling water or water to boost the flavor.
  • Make homemade lemonade to cut back on the amount of sugar found in store-bought lemonade!
  • Try making a watermelon slushy. Mix two cups watermelon, 1-2 cups of ice, and 1 sprig of fresh mint in a blender and blend until smooth. Add ice to reach desired consistency.

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