It has long been suspected that highly coloured drinks can affect a child’s behaviour, but evidence is mounting to support the concern that their physical development may be adversely influenced by the chemical cocktail found in most popular fizzy drinks.
A recent study of 594 children ages between 5 and 14 years old, revealed that a staggering 42% drank 2-3 glasses of fizzy drinks per day in the North of England. The survey, even more worryingly, revealed that 245 of these children simply drank no water at all in favour of sweetened fruit juice or fizzy drinks. This, and other surveys are starting to paint a picture regarding our children’s drinking habits – they are bad! The occasional fizzy drink will never do any harm but we are now witnessing children who have incorporated 2-3 cans of fizzy drinks into their daily diet. When taken over a year this adds up to many hundreds of cans of highly acidic, sweetened and chemically laden fluid on top of the everyday ‘junk’ our children consume.
Bearing in mind that two-thirds of our body is made from water, it would be fair to say that we could all benefit from a drop or two during the day. Water is vital to every chemical process; it lubricates our joints and bathes every cell in a warm, nutritious fluid. The very act of being alive burns off about 2 litres around eight glasses of pure water daily; this should replace 1.5-2 litres.
If you are a tea addict and drink a similar amount of cups per day, don’t fool yourself that you are replacing this water simply because your tea is made from boiled water. Tea and coffee are powerful diuretics; that means they stimulate your body to expel water and make for frequent trips to the toilet.
You simply cannot beat plain water but it is best taken once filtered. You will notice the difference if you take the time to invest in a water filter. Drinking filtered water cuts out the chlorine taste and improves water’s general ‘drinkability’. Don’t be duped into drinking bottled water labelled ‘table water’ – this is simply tap water, and there are no regulations governing its source and it doesn’t even have to be filtered. Mineral water, on the other hand, is highly regulated and comes from a single source and cannot be chemically treated in any way.
Fizzy drinks and thin bones
There is a growing concern that certain drinks may actually affect our children’s physical development. The harsh reality is that the more phosphate your fizzy drink contains, the more calcium is lost from your bones. The recommended dietary ratio of calcium to phosphate should be equal, but the current trend in the UK has moved to about 900mg calcium for every 1450mg of phosphate. Even at these levels some authorities maintain that there is a gross underestimation regarding phosphate intake.
Phosphorous is present in a wider range of food and drink than calcium and is commonly added to drinks such as cola in the form of phosphoric acid. These additional dietary phosphate loads may even damage the development of strong, healthy bones in children.
It is interesting to note that our bodies have a natural phosphate cycle that peaks in the mid afternoon and at night. Scientists have now determined that the afternoon peak is greatly affected by diet. In our children this corresponds to their break time and lunchtime fix of cola or other fizzy drinks.
By increasing the amount of phosphate in the blood a reduction in the circulating vitamin D occurs. Low vitamin D level reduces the amount of calcium that is absorbed from the gut. Since this affects the circulating levels of calcium, yet another hormone is released that stimulates the release of calcium from the bones to balance this apparently low blood calcium level. The end result is poor dietary calcium absorption and increased mobilisation of bone calcium.
This type of biological balancing trick plays havoc with the delicate processes involved in developing bones and increases the risk of that child never attaining their peak bone mass. In other words, there is a real worry that high phosphate food, and especially carbonated drinks, can predispose a child to developing osteoporosis at a prematurely early age. This relationship was highlighted in the Journal of Adolescent Health back in 1994. The authors concluded that a high phosphate diet was strongly associated with a higher than normal rate of fractures in girls (but not boys) aged 8 to 16 years old.
When it comes to sweet drinks there is no such thing as a free lunch, especially when you consider the staggering amount of sugar in a can of cola, for example. To put some numbers to this, your typical can of cola (355ml) contains a shocking 39g of sugar. This equates to 10 average sized sugar cubes per can or, put another way, 156 calories obtained from pure sugar.
With the diet industry becoming more and more influential it’s not surprising that the drinks manufacturers were keen to cash in on a way of giving us the sweet drinks we love with the calories removed; a win-win situation, you would think! Sadly, with the advent of artificial sweetener things started to take a controversial turn for the worse. From the onset, the media were quick to raise worries over the theoretical issue of safety. With stories of cancer links to sweetener intake the headlines were buzzing with reports and stories. We could fill an entire issue of In Touch magazine with this aspect of the sweetener problem without even touching on the reports of sweetener-related aggravation of migraine, ADHD and hyperactivity to name a few.
However, one health problem that we can briefly touch on involves tricking the brain to expect sweet and not delivering the goods! Consider this situation; you take a gulp of a sweet tasting drink. Your tongue senses the sweet taste that is normally accompanied by an elevation in blood sugars soon after you swallow. To prepare the body the sugar regulating hormone insulin is released but… where is the sugar? The now circulating insulin does what it is supposed to do and reduces the blood sugar level despite there not being an elevated level because the artificial sweetener has tricked the body’s regulatory mechanisms.
As the levels drop the appetite centres in the brain detect this lowering of the blood sugar levels and send out a message that prompts the person to go and eat something to push the levels back up again. This is not what a dieter really needs! Drinking ‘diet’ drinks may actually make you eat more or seek sugars even subconsciously. There is no such thing as a free lunch!
Water as a nutrient
The nutritional importance of water is without question. However, water can deliver an added bonus since it may be a valuable source of calcium, but this depends where you live! Soft water is more acidic than hard water and slowly dissolves metals such as lead and copper. If your house is old and the pipes are made of these metals, you may be drinking unhealthy levels of toxic materials. Simple ion exchange filters can filter out most of this, but running a bowlful of water off first before drinking will reduce the risk of contamination substantially.
Hard water, on the other hand, can cause other problems since its high calcium content can result in permanent or temporary hardness. If you boil your hard water and it does not leave any deposits behind you have permanent hardness. If a scale is left behind you may have temporary hardness due to calcium carbonate.
Those of you with permanent hardness in the water actually have more nutritious water! A substantial amount of calcium can be obtained from hard water but it needs to be of the permanent type. Water filters will remove most of the hardness that causes scale or scum but it will not remove permanent hardness which can be a valuable supply of dietary calcium.
A final word of advice
As in most things, moderation counts. There is a body of evidence linking sweetened and chemically laden drinks with health and behavioural problems just as there is growing worries about phosphate levels in fizzy drinks and bone health. It would appear to be prudent to offer our children a glass of water when they are thirsty rather than the popular alternatives. By keeping tastes simple you can influence a child’s choice and keep the fizzy stuff for special days out when it will do no harm and be a real ‘treat’!
So, there’s no harm in the odd fizzy or sugary drink here and there – but make sure you drink plenty of water to replenish your body and stay hydrated. Filtered water is best, and too many fizzy drinks should be avoided!