What we eat and drink has a huge bearing upon our physical and mental wellbeing, not just for adults but for children too. The aim of Nutrition and Hydration Week 13th-19th March 2017 is to highlight, promote and celebrate improvements in the provision of nutrition and hydration locally, nationally and globally.
Infants and young children have a higher proportion of body water than adults. They are also less heat tolerant and may be more likely to get dehydrated, especially when being physically active and in hot climates. Encouraging children to drink fluids regularly is really important, as children may not remember to have a drink by themselves. The amount of fluid a child needs depends on many factors including their age, their gender, the weather and how much physical activity they do, but generally they should aim to drink about 6-8 glasses of fluid per day.
When choosing drinks for children, it is important to be aware that although they all provide water, and some also contain essential vitamins and minerals, they may also provide sugars and therefore energy. Energy in drinks contributes to our daily energy intake in the same way as food. Getting too much energy from drinks over time could cause weight gain.
In addition, drinking sugar-sweetened drinks too often can potentially lead to tooth decay, especially if consumed frequently between meals or if teeth are not brushed regularly with fluoride toothpaste. Dental guidelines recommend consuming sugar-containing food and drinks on less than four times per day.
Milk is a useful source of nutrients, especially protein, B vitamins and calcium. Unsweetened, calcium fortified dairy alternatives can also be included. Milky drinks containing added sugars such as milkshakes, hot chocolate and malted drinks should only be drunk occasionally.
Fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies
Fruit and vegatable juices and smoothies provide some vitamins and minerals and smoothies can contain fiber. However, they also contain free sugars and can be acidic so it is recommended to limit them to one small glass (150ml) a day and to keep them to mealtimes. 150ml counts as a maximum of 1 portion of 5 A DAY. They can be diluted with water to reduce acidity and sugars content.
Tea and coffee
Caffeine is naturally present in tea and coffee. Small amounts are harmless but high intakes should be avoided, especially for young children. It is best for children to drink decaffeinated tea and coffee.
Sports and energy drinks
These can be high in sugars and energy drinks may contain high levels of caffeine or other stimulants. These drinks are not suitable for young children.
Additional practical tips to keep children hydrated include:
- Ensure children have a drink before school i.e. with breakfast, and before and during playtime.
- Parents, teachers and guardians should offer drinks regularly, especially in hot environments.
- Remember that many foods have high water content and can also contribute to fluid intake i.e. fruit, vegetables, yogurt.
- Always pack a water bottle in a school bag or lunchbox for children heading off to school/outings/other activities.
Ghazala Yousuf, Lead Dietitian, The Portland Hospital