We all spend a lot of time worrying about what we feed young children, but do we know enough about how much or what they should be drinking? Water makes up about two-thirds of a healthy child's body weight: - slightly more than an adult's. As we know, most of the chemical reactions that happen in our cells need water. We also need water to carry nutrients around our body and get rid of waste. In short water is essential for our life.
Surprising then, that a recent Netmums survey found 63% of parents didn't know how much their children should drink. More worrying are the findings from a 2012 study which showed that 60% of children arrive at school insufficiently hydrated. (Barker et al 2012).
How much should children drink?
To stay healthy, it's important to replace the fluid children lose when they breathe, sweat or urinate. Food, especially fruit and vegetables provide some fluid but most comes from drinks. EFSA [The European Food Safety Authority] makes specific recommendations for the amount of fluid adults need each day, but none for children.
The general consensus is that 6-8 glasses of between 150ml and 200ml of fluids each day keeps most children well hydrated.
These guidelines are a little ambiguous because of a number of factors
• the variation in children's size
• the weather and temperature
• how active they are.
So, for example, if children are exercising or playing in hot weather they'll need to drink more.
Why do some children not drink enough?
First thing is they are children; they get easily distracted and can simply forget to drink. They don't always want to stop doing something fun to have a drink. Some children are worried about toileting and have learned that restricting their fluid intake causes fewer accidents. All children are less tolerant to heat than adults, they must be prompted to stop and drink during warm weather when the risk of dehydration is at its highest.
Signs of dehydration
One of the obvious signs of dehydration is feeling thirsty. Thirst, however is a delayed reaction. When a child feels thirsty, they are already at least 10% dehydrated. You can't wait for children to ask for drinks- it'll often be too late.
Dehydrated children may experience any of the following:
•dark urine and not passing much urine when they go to the toilet
•lack of energy
Studies have also shown that dehydration can affect children's physical and cognitive function including their short term memory, concentration and attention span. (D'Anci K E et al 2006). Conversely, those children who do top up regularly with fluid perform and behave better in school. (Booth et al 2012).
What should children be drinking?
First choices are water or milk as drinks in line with current recommendations. Diluted fruit juice (not squash) is fine too; the dilution rate of juice to water should be 1:10. All drinks including smoothies, juices, fizzy drinks and milk shakes count towards fluid intake. Some of these can be high in calories and sugar which is bad news for weight and teeth. By far the worst combination for teeth is sugar and acid in pure fruit juices and some carbonated drinks.
Currently, the news is full of stories about the evils of sugar. Understandably, parents are concerned. Some are trying to stop their children from drinking any fruit juices and even milk because of the naturally occurring sugars they contain. At www.Grub4life.org.uk we are keen to make sure drinks like milk and fruit juice aren't demonised in the same way cola is. As a general rule- any drinks with naturally occurring sugar usually come along with a whole load of nutritional goodies like vitamins and minerals. Milk and fruit juice (one a day) can fit perfectly well into a child's healthy diet. Drinks with added sugar like cola, milkshakes, some fruit drinks and energy drinks tend to have low or no nutritional value.
It is drinks with added sugar which need to be handled with care.
Types of drinks and their sugar content
Water is the healthiest choice for quenching children's thirst at any time.
• It has no calories and contains no sugars to damage teeth.
Milk is especially important for young children.
• Only breast or formula milk should be given as drinks to babies under one.
• They should drink whole milk until they are two years old to provide needed calories.
• From the age of two, children can gradually move to semi-skimmed milk as a main drink, as long as they are eating a varied and balanced diet and growing well.
Juices, smoothies and 5 A DAY
• Fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies contain a variety of vitamins.
• A glass (150ml) of fruit juice counts as one of the recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables. However, juice can only ever count as one portion a day, because it doesn't contain the fibre found in whole fruits and vegetables.
• Fruit juice contains sugar and acid that can damage teeth. It's best to drink it with a meal because this can help protect teeth. Teeth should be brushed afterwards.
• The sugars found naturally in whole fruit are less likely to cause tooth decay because the sugar is contained within the structure of the fruit. However, when fruit is juiced or blended, the sugars are released. Once released, these sugars can damage teeth, especially if juice is drunk frequently.
• When you buy fruit juice, check the labels carefully and choose 100% fruit juice with no added sugar, which counts as one of your 5 A DAY.
• Watch out for "juice drinks", which can contain as little as 5% fruit juice and a lot of added sugar.
• Smoothies that are 100% fruit or vegetable can count as up to two portions towards your 5 A DAY when they contain all of the edible pulped fruit or vegetable.
Fizzy drinks and squashes
• Fizzy drinks, squashes and juice drinks contain lots of sugar and very few nutrients, so keep them to a minimum.
• Children who drink a lot of sugary drinks are more likely to become overweight and suffer poor dental health.
• Diet versions of fizzy drinks also contain very few nutrients, so milk or water are much healthier choices, especially for children.
Tea, coffee and caffeine
• Some young children are given "milky tea" to drink when they are weaning.
• The caffeine levels in this type of tea are low but may encourage some children to produce more urine
• The tannin in tea prevents the body from absorbing iron.
• Many children struggle to get enough iron in their diet which can lead to anaemia.
• Children under five should not be given tea to drink.
Energy drinks and caffeine
• Energy drinks often contain high levels of caffeine and sugar.
• They may also contain other stimulants and sometimes vitamins and minerals or herbal substances.
• Energy drinks are not suitable for babies or children.
For practical information on all aspects of children's nutrition go to www.grub4life.org.uk.
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