I’m the first to admit that soda pop tastes great. It is, in fact, so good that a huge number of parents find it hard to resist the urge to pop a can for themselves once in a while. You may perhaps be one of them. With that can in hand, you may also decide one day that letting your child have a sip or two couldn’t do any harm. After all, it’s just an occasional thing, right?
But not so fast. Those occasional little sips can be where the “addiction” starts. Be it at a birthday party or in a restaurant, those innocent little sips can add up to a lot of sugar. So before you stick that straw in the can, let’s check a few fizzy facts.
A single 12-ounce (350ml) can of soda may contain as much as 10 tsps of sugar. That’s almost a 1/4 of a cup! Having just one can of soft drink a day can raise a child’s risk of obesity as much as 60 percent.
Surprisingly, the juice box is not necessarily a healthier option. A 12-ounce box of grape juice may contain 50 percent more sugar than grape soda. Even pure fruit juice is not particularly better than soda pop. It may have slightly more nutritional value, but sugar is still sugar when it comes to teeth, calories and a habit for sweet drinks. Most importantly, soda pop can fill up those little tummies rapidly and leave very little room for healthier foods.
However, if and when you wish to give juice to your child, try the following strategies: • Hold off on all sweet drinks during your child’s first year and when you introduce them, don’t serve them in a bottle or sippy cup that your child associates with milk or meal times.
• Stick to pure fruit juices. Drinks that are not 100 percent juice typically contain added sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup that contribute additional empty calories and raise the risk of cavities.
• If you serve juice in a sippy cup, empty the cup once the child is done to discourage walking around with a cup full of sugary drink.
• Dilute juice heavily. Try 20 percent juice to 80 percent water. A young child has no expectations of how sweet something should be. If flat water is boring for older kids, try sparkling water, which still dilutes the juice but adds a little soda pop zing.
• Keep the pulp for added fiber.
• Crushed mint, ginger juice and pieces of real fruit add interest to diluted juices.
• Smoothies made with real whole fruit and milk are nice substitutes for juices.
• Finally, sugar-free drinks are not a good substitute as they still may set the expectation of soda as a regular drink.
A few final soda tips:
• Be the role model. If you are a regular soda pop or fruit juice drinker, try to quit or at least limit your own intake. Your child is more likely to do as you do than as you say. For adults, eliminating a daily can of soda may have a big impact on weight loss (kicking a soda habit was a big part of my husband’s successful weight loss efforts ten years ago).
• Scarcity is sanity. As more parents get actively involved in their children’s school nutrition, soda pop or even juice boxes for the school lunch has become a rarity. Do the same at home by not keeping such drinks around. If it is not in the fridge, there is less opportunity for the child to whine for it whenever you are in the kitchen.
• Less is always better. If you decide to allow some soda, try limiting it to weekends and keeping servings moderate. One can per week in total (not necessarily all at once) is more than enough.
• Remember: It’s a treat. Even juice should be viewed as a dessert. Like cake and ice cream, it should be enjoyed as an occasional treat and not something that accompanies every meal. Olivia Lee
Got a question? Singaporean Olivia Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org) has an MSc in nutrition and provides nutrition counseling.