Warning: Read Beyond the Headlines on AAP Clinical Report on Sports Drinks

Today the American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical report (ahead of print in June issue of Pediatrics) on sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents. I read the report and was interviewed by NPR, however, it appears I only made the cut for the blog article.

The way this story is being reported reinforces the need to read beyond the headlines. The second sentence of the abstract clearly states, “sports drinks and energy drinks are significantly different products and the terms should not be used interchangeably.” The report goes on to say that “these drinks (sports drinks) should be ingested when there is a need for more rapid replenishment of carbohydrates and/or electrolytes in combination with water during periods of vigorous sports participation or other intense physical activity.”

In other words, athletic kids, especially those who exercise in hot, humid conditions, can benefit from using sports drinks as part of their hydration strategies. Fluids are critical to young athletes. Because of their size they have more surface area to body mass and they absorb the heat from the environment more readily than adults. Kids are at a high risk for heat illness when exercising in the heat and humidity of a summer day. My fear is that parents and coaches will read only the headlines that are reported for this story and not allow kids to drink sports drinks when they are needed for rapid re-hydration. August will be here before we know it and that means football practice…I hope the Gatorade coolers don’t disappear from the sidelines in junior high or high school football!

Sugar has become the scapegoat for childhood obesity and all dietitians agree that we should all consume less sugar. But, a sports drink has less sugar than fruit juice so sports drinks have their place in the life of an active child or adolescent. Yes, I used to be on a board of advisors for Gatorade, but I was on the board because I believed in the science behind sports drinks and recommend them for use by athletes of all ages.

The report contains some good information about energy drinks and I agree that kids and adolescents don’t need energy drinks…I think they can be dangerous for kids, especially kids who are active. Exercise raises heart rate so there is no need to go into exercise having consumed energy drinks with caffeine which can elevate heart rate, too.

So, read the report and gain some useful information, but please read beyond the headlines to make sensible, science-based recommendations for active kids.

What does "natural" mean on a food package?


Today’s article in the New York Times on functional foods got me thinking about the word “natural” on so many food packages. Just yesterday a friend was snacking on a bag of pretzels flavored as “everything” bagels…they were shaped like tiny little bagels and did look like mini, mini-everything bagels. The package contained the word “natural” in several different places (including “naturally delicious” which of course is a matter of opinion). In reading the ingredient list there were many ingredients, including food additives used as preservatives, coloring, and flavor. What is “natural” about that?

In addition to many of the functional food health claims discussed in the NY Times article, consumers should be leery of the “natural” buzzword, too. One dictionary definition of natural is “present in or produced in nature; not artificial.” Hardly describes pretzel bagels. Before the nutrition labeling act, such practices as calling an oil “light” because it was lighter in color, was widespread. The NLEA was supposed to make food labels truthful and easy to understand but health claim creep has overtaken food packaging. Marketing is often way ahead of science and it shouldn’t take a PhD in nutrition to figure out the meaning of all of these claims (or a magnifying glass to read the fine, fine print).

I suggested to my friend a really natural snack…nuts, natural, unsalted, delicious nuts. A handful of walnuts, almonds or pistachios will satisfy hunger, provide some protein, and lots of other good-for-you nutrients like fiber and Vitamin E. So next time you get the urge to snack, watch out for the “natural” claims and go for something really natural.