Kids eat right.

Hard Facts about Soft Drinks

Reviewed by Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD
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Two in three kids in the U.S. drink at least one sugary drink each day. And, about 30 percent of children consume two or more per day. Plus, when the price is low — think soda — kids learn quickly that they can get more "bang for their buck." They go for the super-size soft drink instead of an 8-ounce carton of low-fat milk. And, let's face it, the variety of types and flavors of soft drinks — regular, diet, with or without caffeine, cola and energy drinks — is a temptation trap.

Sweetened Soft Drinks

The main ingredient in sweetened soft drinks is water. They are about 90 percent carbonated water. So, why discourage kids from consuming sodas too often? These drinks provide essentially no key nutrients. Plus, they contain sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, which is a combination of fructose and dextrose (a sugar that comes from corn). There's an ongoing debate about a link between this syrup and the skyrocketing obesity rates in the U.S. The jury is still out. At this point, there is not enough scientific evidence to say that this sweetener changes metabolism, increases body fat or boosts appetite. Regardless, one key strategy for maintaining a healthy weight is to limit added sugar.

Other ingredients in soft drinks are artificial and natural flavors. Plus, acids such as citric acid and phosphoric acid give a tart taste and act as preservatives. Coloring usually is added. Many soft drinks also contain caffeine. While caffeine is not necessarily harmful, it is a stimulant that can affect kids' alertness and sleep patterns. Caffeine can make children feel anxious, jittery or dizzy. It may even cause headaches. Unfortunately, the Nutrition Facts and other food labels do not list the amount of caffeine. However, most caffeine-free soft drinks say so on the label.

If your child or teen drinks sweetened soft drinks, consider these "think before you drink" tips: 

  • Offer kids water when they are thirsty — it is the best way to quench thirst.
  • Serve water or low-fat or fat-free milk or fortified soy beverage at meals instead of soft drinks.
  • Cut down the quantity of soft drinks over time. Each week, have your children cut back until they reach the goal of drinking one serving or less a day. And, no, a 64-ounce cup is not a serving! The daily limit should be no more than 8 to 12 fluid ounces, or — better yet — none at all.
  • Shift soda drinkers to diet soda options — they are a better alternative than regular sodas because they don’t contain added sugars, but water is the best way to quench thirst.