Guest blog from Amie Lunn, Registered Nutritional Therapist
Staying hydrated is super important for all of us, but especially important for little people in our lives as they are growing at such rapid rates and we need to make sure their growing brains and developing cells are all optimally hydrated. But what are the best ways to keep our little ones hydrated? Should we only offer water? What about juice? Can herbal teas be a part of your children’s fluid intake? Let’s discuss…
From 6 months of age, once your baby begins eating solid foods, you can start offering small amounts of water with meals. Remember babies’ main source of hydration and nutrition will come from either breastmilk or formula until age one, so don’t be tempted to offer too much water as this will displace their usual milk feeds. It is a really good idea to keep their additional fluid intake strictly to water at this stage, so they grow to like it and don’t come to expect a more ‘fun’ taste!
Parents usually find it easy enough to ensure babies and very small children are only drinking water, but once children get a little older, it’s another story. Children can start asking for juice, especially if they are starting to see other children around them drinking it. Even with the best will in the world, it is really hard to keep them away from it. As adults we drink a variety of different things, so it is fine for our little ones to want a bit of variety, however, our children don't need to consume juice, and it should be avoided where possible. It isn’t just the sugar that can impact negatively on our little one’s health, the artificial sweeteners in the sugar-free varieties are arguably more of a concern. I won’t go into the sugar, as I think we’ve had it drilled into us that too much sugar isn’t a good idea for children for multiple reasons, but let’s dive into the artificial sweeteners…
Are Artificial Sweeteners Better Than Sugar?
Since we have been told sugar is bad for our children, lots of sugar free products have popped up on the market, many of these are specifically marketed at kids. But the truth is, these man-made, chemical sweeteners may actually be worse for us than the sugar and there have been some alarming results correlating their consumption in children to an increased risk of obesity later in childhood. Artificial sweeteners can be up to 8000x sweeter than sugar and when we taste something super sweet, an insulin response is induced in the body, which results in blood sugar being stored in the tissues; but as our blood sugar levels are not increased with artificial sweeteners (as it would be if we consumed real sugar), our body enters a state of hypoglycermia (low blood sugar), which then means our body tells our brain we need to eat food, so calorie consumption can increase – this is the link between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and weight gain.
The scientists are still divided on their safety, with scientific studies concluding anything from they are “safe under all conditions” to they are “unsafe at any dose”. Given some of the concerning data and the fact that we just don’t know enough, my opinion is to always avoid artificial sweeteners where possible. It can be difficult to escape the well-known orange and purple kids drinks in the little bottles, so I tend to take an alternative in my bag if I know we are going somewhere where these will be available, I like the Pip Organic juices for on-the-go, as these still look fun to little ones. I’ve even resorted to buying a 'kids drink' while out for lunch and emptying the contents down the sink in the bathroom and filling it up with water!
What Are Healthier Options To Fruit Cordials?
Water should be a child’s main source of hydration (after the milk stage!), but it is ok to offer some variety, occasionally as they get older. Opt for fresh juices, such as 100% orange juice, not from concentrate and dilute it the same way you would a cordial; but only give this alongside meals to minimise the impact on their teeth, and help stop their blood sugar from dipping up and down all day (we don’t need them anymore hyper right?!).
Another great option for little ones is herbal teas! These are a fantastic choice as they keep them hydrated, offer lots of benefits from the plants they are made with and skip the sugars and artificial sweeteners (usually, but check ingredients!). Herbal teas are an easy way to let your children benefit from some of nature’s powerful herbs and flowers such as camomile, mint, and lavender that can help relax and calm a child before bedtime; and the fruitier blends like strawberry and lemon are a great source of antioxidants and can be served as ice-tea instead of the dilute juice/cordials. Recently, now the weather is warmer, I’ve been making them into ice lollies for myself and the kids!
If you haven’t tried herbal teas with your children, give them a try and if you’re still not sold on whether artificial sweeteners are unsafe, head to the scientific research journal pages and have a look for yourself.
Amie Lunn, aka The Mummy Nutritionist is a registered Nutritional Therapist, Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and advocate for infant health and nutrition. You will find her @amie.nutrition on instagram where she shares lots about her daily life and how she nourishes herself and children.
Macintyre, A., Marryat, L. and Chambers, S., 2018. Exposure to liquid sweetness in early childhood: artificially‐sweetened and sugar‐sweetened beverage consumption at 4–5 years and risk of overweight and obesity at 7–8 years. Paediatric Obesity, 13(12), pp.755-765.