Marketed “healthy” fruit juices, non-dairy milks and all sorts of probiotic-infused beverages are infiltrating the nation’s drinking habits, but new research reinforces there are only four things young children should be drinking: breast milk, formula, water, and cow’s milk.
A report out of America recently found almost half of children aged two to five were drinking sugar-laden drinks daily – a dangerous start that works against establishing a life-long pattern of healthy eating and drinking.
In Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports the problem is slightly less severe – but still alarming – figures: 44.8 per cent of two to 17-year-olds have a sweetened drink or diet drink weekly, with the rates higher in boys over girls.
The conversation about the health dangers of sugar is growing louder, but Dietitian’s Association of Australia spokeswoman Natasha Murray said many parents were unsure about some of the final details.
“Many parents are unaware that 100 per cent fruit juice is not the ideal beverage for children,” Ms Murray told The New Daily.
While fruit is part of a balanced diet for children, when whole fruit is turned into liquid and stripped of its fibre components, the fruit’s glucose levels are left unchecked – leading to a spike in blood glucose levels for the imbiber.
Ms Murray, an accredited practising dietitian, said it’s better to steer children towards eating whole fruit instead – “It will fill up their tummy more and provide fibre, and encourage chewing” – or if there’s a situation where fruit juice is unavoidable, dilute it down like you would with cordial.
Responsible drinking for children
It’s agreed upon in the dietitian world that breastfeeding or specialised formula is the best drink for babies up until 12 months of age. According to the World Health Organisation, breastfeeding is right to continue (as long as both parties are happy) until the child is two years old.
(Infants under 12 months can also drink cooled, boiled water.)
Ms Murray said the consensus was that cow’s milk can safely be introduced to diets after 12 months. There’s no need for fruit juice of any kind for infants – it might actually affect their intake of breast milk or formula.
After the 12-month milestone, full-cream cow’s milk (save allergies) and water are still the best beverage choices for children, Ms Murray said.
“It is best to offer children milk and water as their main drinks for as long as possible,” she advised.
Things like juice, cordial and soft drinks aren’t nutrient dense, and bring only sugar to the diet, she said.