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Daily 5-2-1-0: Choose water, avoid sugary drinks

| Healthy You | Eating Right | 5-2-1-0

Young child drinking a glass of water

Give kids water or other non-sugary beverages to keep them hydrated.

Zero—in the 5-2-1-0 plan to help kids build healthy habits—represents the daily goal to avoid sugary drinks. 

“Sugar tastes good and is very appealing to children, but too much isn’t good for us,” says Misty Carlson, MD, pediatric cardiologist at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, in Springfield, Oregon, “and it’s easy to get too much.”

Natural sugars found in plants and other non-processed foods are fine as part of an overall balanced diet. However, many of us—including children—consume far more “added sugar” than we realize. 

How does sugar affect our bodies?

Among other things, added sugar which many sugar-sweetened beverages contain, is linked to 

  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney diseases
  • Non-alcoholic liver disease
  • Tooth decay and cavities

Sugary drinks are common

According to the CDC, sugary drinks are the leading sources of added sugars in the American diet. 

Sugary drinks include regular sodas, fruit juices, chocolate drinks, flavored coffees and sports drinks. The CDC also notes that 63% of American adults aged 18 or older reported drinking sugar-sweetened beverages once daily or more. 

And it’s not just sugar.

“Artificial sweeteners can be just as bad even though they don’t have sugar or calories,” says Dr. Carlson. Among other things, they can make us crave more sweetened foods and lead to weight gain. “For a host of reasons, it’s best to avoid drinks that are artificially sweetened.” 

Tips to help kids avoid sugary drinks:

  • Set the example. Kiddos watch and learn from adults. When youngsters are around, drink something they might drink so they don’t feel left out. 
  • Shop strategically. Carefully read labels. Choose juices with zero added sugar and avoid sodas, artificial sweeteners and energy drinks, which are high in caffeine.
  • Ensure water quality. Tap water can taste different depending on where it comes from. Buying bottled water is expensive and not ecologically friendly; however, filtering your water can be a less costly way to make the taste more appealing.
  • Offer variety. Help your children focus on drinks they can have instead of what they can’t. Milk is a great fallback. If a child is sensitive to dairy, see if they like a non-dairy version such as oat milk or almond milk (unsweetened, of course). 
  • Enhance water flavor. Keep in the fridge a pitcher of water with slices of fruits in it. “This gives a little flavor for kids who may not like the taste of plain water,” notes Dr. Carlson. 

Learn facts about water intake. Check out tips from the CDC on how to rethink your drink.

Talk with your child’s pediatrician at the next office visit about strategies for making step-by-step changes that will stick. 

This article is the fifth and final post in a series about the 5-2-1-0 approach to promoting healthy habits. 

portrait of Misty L. Carlson MD

Misty L. Carlson MD

Pediatric Cardiology
Misty L. Carlson MD practices Pediatrics in Springfield.