Parents beware of hidden caffeine lurking in energy drinks

Posted May 13, 2013, at 11:41 a.m.
How to make infused water -- Cut up fruits and vegetables of your choice, just one item or a combination. Put them in a pitcher of water and refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow the water to be infused with the flavor.Common choices for infusing water include strawberries, melons, cucumbers, lime, lemon, watermelon, and mint. Check online for recipes.

It’s baseball and softball season in Maine, a time many parents spend chauffeuring kids back and forth to practice and games, fitting in dinner, and watching children practice catching, throwing and hitting. I’m one of those parents sitting there watching my child practice softball.

As the weather has gotten a little warmer, I’ve noticed the plethora of beverages children are consuming. Energy and sports drinks have become very popular and are now seen at every sporting event from T-ball to tennis. Fluid is important to control body temperature, cushion our organs, help digestion and carry nutrients around our body. But do children really need these specialty products?

Energy drinks and sports drinks are different commodities. Energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster Energy and Rockstar were not designed to be consumed by young children or teenagers. Most products are made up of water, sugar and caffeine. The products also contain varying amounts of carbohydrates, protein, amino acids, vitamins, sodium and other minerals. The term “energy” is meant to imply calories, and these “energy” drinks usually contain stimulants such as guarana, yerba mate, kola nut, and cocoa. Manufacturers aren’t required to list the caffeine content from these ingredients, so while the nutrition facts may show the caffeine at 80 or 90 milligrams per eight ounces, it may actually be in excess of 500 milligrams per serving.

Children and teens shouldn’t consume more than 100 milligrams of caffeine daily. Based on research published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2009 following cardiac arrest in a young man who consumed an excess amount of caffeine-containing energy drinks, a lethal dose of caffeine is considered to be 200 to 400 milligrams per kilogram.

Sports drinks are flavored beverages that usually contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, and sometimes vitamins or other nutrients. Sports drinks are marketed to optimize athletic performance and replace fluid and electrolytes lost through sweat during and after exercise.

Sports drinks play a role in the diets of young athletes who are engaged in sustained, vigorous sports activity. Using energy drinks instead of sports drinks for rehydration can result in ingestion of potentially large amounts of caffeine or other stimulant substances. Also of concern is the intentional ingestion of energy drinks by adolescents who desire the stimulant effects for increased energy during sporting events and school activities.

Given the current epidemic of childhood obesity, unless a child is participating in really vigorous activity, they do not need a calorie-containing beverage for hydration. Water is the most appropriate choice. Buy your child a reusable drinking bottle and be sure they have it with them when heading off to practice or a game. If your child doesn’t like the flavor of plain water, try some infused water. Strawberry is great.

In 2007, the Institute of Medicine published a report titled “Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools,” in which it recommended a healthier eating environment for children and adolescents in this country. Relevant to sports and energy drinks, its recommendations for schools included:

— Limit sugars in food and drink.

— Have water available at no cost.

— Restrict carbonated, fortified, or flavored waters.

— Restrict sports drinks to use by athletes only during prolonged, vigorous sports activities.

— Prohibit energy drink use, even for athletes.

— Prohibit the sale of caffeinated products in school.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.

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