The unhealthy side of health drinks

The ongoing row over several branded health drinks which moms have been trusting for decades has made us think, are we feeding our kids the right kind of food?
“Although the majority of brands advertise these products as “energy and vitamin-rich drinks,” but on the other hand they don’t mention the heavy quantity of sugar used in them which can be very harmful for kids,” says Dr Saurabh Khanna, Lead Consultant, Neonatology and Pediatrics, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram.

These products are promoted as immunity boosters and make tall claims that these will help kids in growing tall and strong, he says and adds, “but in reality, energy drinks and such health drinks cannot increase immunity; this can be only done by immunisations / vaccinations.”

What are the ingredients parents should check before buying them?

Dr Khanna explains: As per the recommendation of the nutritionist or pediatrician depending on the condition or deficiency of a particular nutrient which otherwise is unavailable to the child through dietary intake, one may be recommended the supplements (through energy drinks).

Parents should look out for high sugar content in the drink. Proteins, vitamins, minerals, DHA etc are certain ingredients which help in overall growth of the child, and should be used only for a short while until the child starts taking these through their diet.

Natural alternatives for kids other than health drinks

When would you recommend a child to have these health drinks?

These supplements and health drinks can only be given to kids for a very short period of time if they are malnourished and their parents are unable to offer them enough nourishment through foods, says Dr Khanna.

What are the complications likely to come when these drinks are given to kids regularly?

Dr Khanna highlights three important complications that might arise when such health drinks are regularly fed to a child.

“These drinks include a lot of processed sugars, and excessive intake of these on a regular basis might raise the risk of diabetes and obesity in kids,” he adds.

As per Unicef’s World Obesity Atlas for 2022, India is likely to be home to 27 million obese kids by 2030. It currently ranks 99 out of 183 countries in terms of handling the economic impact of obesity.

“Children who skip meals and miss out on the nutrients they need may feel full after drinking these drinks, which might have an impact on their growth and development. Kids can also get addicted to sweet and chocolate flavors of these drinks if consumed on a regular basis,” explains Dr Khanna.

The indulgence needs to stop

“A child will not stop at this health drink but continue to indulge in sugar beverages , jams, spreads, candies, jellies, cakes, biscuits, ketchups, etc which are also the sources of sugar . One cannot eliminate this completely in a child’s diet as they are completely exposed to it, hence portion size is the key rather than eliminating it completely which later increases their craving towards it,” explains Dr. Edwina Raj, Head – of Clinical Nutrition Dietetics, Aster CMI Hospital.

“Every Health drink or supplement varies in composition and consists of both benefits and downside of additives in them. They are also loaded with carbohydrates between 12-17g in 4tsp of supplement which when added to milk is equivalent to one serving of cereal / chapathi consumed for breakfast. Therefore this needs to be considered while planning a child’s daily meal to ensure we do not go overboard in feeding them which will increase the risk of being overweight and prone to lifestyle diseases,” Dr Raj adds.

What are healthier alternatives?

When asked about healthier alternatives to the marketed health drinks, Dr Khanna said, consumption of natural sources and foods is much better and a healthier alternative than the intake of processed foods and ingredients.

For instance; parents can make a mango shake or a banana shake at home which can be much more beneficial to their kids’ health than in a tasteful way, he recommends.


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