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Ask Dr. Sears: Soda for Babies?

Q  Will a sip of soda be harmful to my six-month-old's health?

A It's unlikely that an occasional sip of soda, as a treat, will be harmful to your child. However there are some clearly harmful biochemical effects of too much soda. I call this the "triple whammy of soda"  -- three potentially harmful things you should know about, before you let your child overdose on sodas.

* Soda has too much sugar. An average 12-ounce can of soda contains around ten teaspoons of sugar! This sugar isn't partnered with any nutrients to slow down the absorption of sugar  -- protein, fiber, or fat. So the sugar enters the bloodstream too fast, causing a roller coaster effect with ups and downs of behavior.

New research also suggests that the type of sugar in sodas  -- high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)  -- might be harmful. HFCS is chemically extracted and processed from corn, and because it's cheaper than sugar, it has almost completely replaced cane sugar in sweetened beverages. Some research suggests that the body may not metabolize it the same way it does cane sugar, since HFCS is chemically processed. Many researchers believe that HFCS in sweetened beverages is one of the main contributors to the epidemic of childhood obesity. I would agree. There is still a lot of controversy among nutritionists about the effects of HFCS on health, but the advice I give patients in my pediatric practice is to avoid beverages that are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

* Soda has too much caffeine. While some beverages, such as Sprite and 7-UP, do not have caffeine, most cola-type sweetened beverages do. Caffeine causes a buzz to children's brains at a time in their development when many are already dubbed "hyperactive." The high the child gets from a jolt of caffeine is often followed by a low with consequent mood swings the rest of the day.

* Soda robs calcium from growing bones. When I was young, sodas used to be called "phosphates." That's because of the phosphoric acid that was added to make the drink fizzy. When phosphate is absorbed into the bloodstream, it travels around looking for a partner to pair up with chemically. Its favorite is calcium. Phosphate leaches calcium out of the child's growing bones, which need all the calcium they can get. It is estimated that a child can lose as much as 100 milligrams of calcium  -- more than ten percent of their daily needs  -- from one 12-ounce bottle of a fizzy drink.

Finally, one of our nutritional goals in parenting should be to "shape young tastes" toward healthy foods and drinks. By introducing sugar-sweetened beverages at a young age, you are helping your child's tastes to grow in an unhealthy direction. Better to raise your children without sweetened beverages during the early formative years. Give them water and milk to drink mainly, and they will grow up without expecting every drop of fluid to taste artificially sweet. In fact, I have noticed among children in my practice that the ones deprived of junk food and junk drinks don't grow up overdosing on sweets. They certainly will taste the sugary stuff, but they also make the connection between junk food and bad feelings they bring. They often call this feeling "yuck tummy." One of the healthiest messages you can give your children is "water is what we drink"

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