Diet is the most critical factor in determining your risk for getting cavities. While oral hygiene habits, genetics, medication, and overall health are contributing factors, diet is the most important by far. The epidemic of dental decay in the United States is directly linked to dietary choices. The meal and snack choices for children that are available today are much different than they were a generation ago. How do we make the best choices for our children and ourselves when it comes to a balanced, healthy diet?
I reached out via Twitter to Shannon Garcia, RD, a local San Antonio dietitian with Lone Star Nutrition, LLC and frequent contributor to SA Live. I wanted to hear her thoughts on snacking healthy, what to avoid, and how to develop good habits for our children so that they can be healthy and free of dental decay for life.
What are three of the worst snacks/beverages that children are consuming these days that parents think are healthy, but are not?
It’s now harder than ever to select healthy beverages and snacks for our kids. Manufacturers have done an excellent job of making us think products are healthy, when they’re often filled with sugar, fake sweeteners or other unnecessary additives.
1.) Sports Drinks. I always tell the families I work with that “Gatorade is not Couch-Ade, Wii-Ade, or iPad-Ade”. Sports drinks are usually only needed after an hour or more of physical activity. Here in Texas, kids may sweat and lose electrolytes faster than other places with moderate temperature, but unless there’s extreme activity for 60 minutes, good ol’ fashioned water will work just fine.
2.) Juice drinks or 100% fruit juice. Just like sports drinks, our children don’t truly need juice. Yes, there may be a handful of vitamins in there, but ideally their diet should be varied enough to meet their vitamin and mineral needs. Even 100% juice is still concentrated in natural sugars, and not a beverage we want to be sipping on throughout the day. I recommend kids have a maximum of four to 6 ounces of juice daily.
3.) Fruit snacks. Similar to juice, fruit snacks are concentrated in sugars (natural or added sugar, depending on the brand) and offer very little nutritional value. Additionally, I often see fruit snacks displacing real fruit from kid’s diets since some kiddos and parents feel they are consuming healthy fruit by eating fruit snacks. Often parents comment about offering their children “organic fruit snacks”, but organic fruit snacks are still packed with sugars- organic or not. The same principle applies to organic juices.
What are three good alternatives to these snacks/drinks?
1.) The best alternative to sports drinks is water. If you find your child doesn’t immediately embrace the switch from sports drinks, consider freezing watermelon, berries or orange slices and add for natural fruit flavored water. If your kids are drinking sports drinks casually and at high volumes (8oz or more), consider allowing them to have only one 8oz bottle daily as a way to begin the transition of less sports drinks and more water.
2.) The same recommendations for sports drink replacements also apply to juice. The long-term goal should be for kids to drink no more than four to six ounces of juice daily, but it may take a few weeks to get there depending on how much your child is currently drinking. Other healthier beverages include low-fat milk, sparkling water, Hint Water or unsweetened decaffeinated tea.
3.) Fruit snacks ideally should be replaced with real fruit. If kids are on the go, bananas, cuties or apples are great to toss in backpacks. If they’re at home over the summer, melons and berries are great alternatives with natural sweetness and intact nutrition. Whole fruit, like watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew also offer the benefit of hydration because of their water content, and are perfect for a refreshing summertime snack.
Thank you, Shannon, for the great tips! Where can people learn more about the services you provide?
I provide home-based nutrition visits to San Antonio families. I take a quality over quantity approach to ensure great attention is given to every family and all recommendations and plans are personalized for each family. You can find more information on my website, Lone Star Nutrition, LLC. I also enjoy being active on my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest accounts where I provide healthful tips and motivation to continue the daily efforts needed for maintaining a sustainably healthful lifestyle.