Are you fighting the sweet-drink war at your house? It has become clearer and clearer to me that sweet drinks are just not healthy for anyone. I feel that those of us who can see this clearly need to educate the people we care about, starting with our kids.
I’ll warn you right now: Kids will protect their sweet drinks like pirates with a chest of gold!
Is it Really That Big A Deal?
I wish it wasn’t, but it is. Soda is bad for you on at least 5 different levels. Put simply, it’s liquid candy. Drinking soda can lead to insulin resistance, leading to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Carbon dioxide in the bubbles is not helpful to health. And to top it off, many sodas are full of artificial junk ingredients and petrochemical preservatives. If you go with diet soda, you’ve still got carbon dioxide and junk ingredients, plus, artificial sweeteners. Aspartame in particular is so dangerous it shouldn’t even be legal!
Fruit juice is better, right? Unfortunately not so much. Processed fruit juice contains tons of sugar. Sugar, whether it’s natural or added, can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, heart problems. Processed fruit juice does not contain the vitamins, live enzymes or fiber contained in real fruit. These things give fruit more health benefits and make fruit digest more slowly than juice. Processed fruit juice is a simple carb, and spikes insulin for many people. Many fruit juices contain as much sugar as a Snickers bar, and metabolize much faster.
Freshly made juice, like the kind from a juice bar, or the kind you juice yourself and drink right away, is healthier and does contain more vitamins, enzymes and fiber, but even with fresh juice, you’ll want to watch sugar levels. .
What Should We Be Drinking, Anyway?
Water. Yes, as far as I can tell, it’s that simple. Clean, filtered water is the best drink for humans, by far. We need to hydrate ourselves constantly, and water is far better for this than everything else. Some other drinks may be OK in moderation. Some almond or other milk may be OK for kids, depending on allergies of course, but not as their only beverage. Moderate amounts of coffee or tea or wine may be ok for healthy adults, but not as our main drink.
The sweetened liquids that so many people drink exclusively – juice and soda – are not useful to our health, and they are making many people fat and sick.
The great thing about humans is that we can change our habits. Our palates are actually pretty flexible if we are motivated. Permanent dietary changes are possible, but not easy. We cling to what’s familiar, and somehow, most of us feel “entitled” to eat and drink what we’re used to.
I know something about this. I have changed my eating entirely, several times over, in the process of losing 100 lbs in the past 3 years. In my experience, these are the steps to making a major dietary change:
1. Understand the facts – Be educated and really know what is true about the health implications of your current diet and why the change is necessary.
2. Be supported – by a friend, a support group, a website, a parent, whatever. Someone who will be there every single day and help you keep your resolve.
3. Baby Steps… then repetition. Make a small change in the right direction that you don’t hate, then practice it awhile. Inch a little further in the right direction, wash, rinse, repeat. It takes 3 weeks to make a new habit, the diet and exercise gurus say. Change is possible, but it does take time and persistance.
TIPS FOR CHANGING YOUR HABITS:
- It’s easier if you have a plan, written down so you can’t forget.
- It helps me to put up a picture or photo, to remind me why I’m making the change, in a compelling visual way.
- Make sure your support system is in communication with you daily, whether you’re having a good day or a bad one. Bad days are when you need support most!
Very Young Children – Time to get off the Sugar Train!
Any of you out there with tiny children, 4 or younger, here’s my message for you:
Teach them to drink water NOW, while you still have control!
Remember, baby steps. There are a thousand ways to do this. Here are a few. Use your creative mom instincts to think of more, and post them here!
1. Water it down (slowly). Be intentional about it, just replace a little of the juice in a new bottle with water, 5% then 10% the next bottle, 15%, 20%. Write it down so you remember. Ease their palates toward less-sweet tastes.
2. Make a water rule: Every other cup or bottle has to be water. Juice, then water… Almond Milk, then water… Soda (if you allow it!), then water…
3. Little ones sometimes love having a special extra-appealing cup/glass/bottle, to be used only for water. See if you can use this tool in teaching them to enjoy drinking water. That’s really where we’re going… by 12, you’d like their routine everyday drink to be water.
4. Outlaw soda in your house today, while you still can! Draw the line. At my house, we only have soda when we go out to eat. Don’t think you can shelter them from soda, they will certainly try it somewhere, but when they are old enough, have a frank discussion about how soda is liquid candy and what it does to your body.
Also, outlaw aspartame (Nutrasweet) in your house, if you haven’t already, and work toward sweetening all your foods in healthier ways. More about this later.
Older Children: Inform, Educate, Model and Modify Habits
With older children (age 5-12), many habits are already set. You can support them in gradually improving their habits, and educate them about food and health. They may be drinking a lot of soda. Or they could have a big fruit juice habit, which is almost as bad. Phasing out any strong habit will probably require gradual steps and flexibility. It’s great if your kids can get to the point where they actually want to make the change, and ask for your help.
Children 5-9 children are into rules, and if you are careful, maybe you can set some new house rules about drinks that they will not resist too much. I have noticed that when my kids are successful in changing their habits, they are very proud of themselves, and willing to tell other kids “I don’t drink that”.
Of course, as they get older, you can always vote with your dollars. If you refuse to buy juice or soda, they have to finance their own drinks. I don’t buy soda. I think that cutting down on the number of bottles you agree to buy, to help them cut down gradually, might be a good approach, but you’d need to discuss it with them first or it could lead to real resentment.
1. Try stevia-sweetened sodas, available at health food stores. If they can switch to these, it’s a good first step. This would be better for them than sugar, and way better than Aspartame.
2. Experiment with making your own sodas. Buy bubbly spring water, and add your own stevia and lemon and lime juice, or whatever. This can be worth the effort, if your children are attached to drinking soda.
3. With teenagers, have an informational discussion with them about their soda addiction that makes a difference. Be neutral and informative, not critical. Make sure they know you are on their side and want to help them learn to support their health.
Explain that soda is not food. Explain the health consequences of aspartame. This is an important discussion to have, so that they are informed, whether or not they are able to make a change at this moment. Give them information in writing, so they can read it later on their own. A big change like this would have to be something they decide is important.
This is actually the battle I’m fighting at my own house. When we run out of juice, it’s like 3 teenage crack addicts who need a fix! I have taught myself to be a water drinker. My kids are not there (yet). I used to think it was ok for them to drink lots of fruit juice. But now I have realized, after watching Robert Lustig and Gary Taubes’ videos about sugar and obesity, that fruit juice is another concentrated source of sugar, and will not support their health.
If you are dealing with a serious soda addiction, see if they can switch from sugar-soda or aspartame-soda to one of the sucralose-sweetened ones. This is not ideal, but is at least a step in the right direction. Less dangerous. A transition on the way to something healthier. Most people do not make dietary changes easily, and will have to come to see the need for themselves, to make it a truly permanent habit.
With older children or adults, it’s best to propose some possible approaches and let them choose what they think would work best for them. Mostly, they need to understand the issue and want to make the change.
Which Sweeteners should we use?
Stevia is the most desirable natural sweetener, and sweetens many drinks well. We make homemade lemonade with stevia that my kids like a lot. The sweeteners that I sometimes use, in order of my preference, are:
- Truvia (Stevia plus xylitol)
- Agave nectar (fructose, but low-glycemic)
- Sweet N Low (saccharine- artificial)
- Splenda (artificial)
You will want to experiment with all of these, and any others you find. They all have pro’s and con’s. Do not use Aspartame, it’s dangerous.