Soft drinks & diet soft drinks

When it comes to beverages, children should be drinking water regularly as well as reduced-fat milk. However there are many other drinks on the market, including soft drinks that seem to be favoured over the recommended drinks of choice.

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that more than half of Australian children aged 5-16 years old consumed one or more soft drinks per day! This is far too much considering that a 600mL bottle of soft drink contains no nutritional value,  around 900kJ and 13 teaspoons of added sugar.

While the body requires some sugar, excess intake can increase risk of Type 2 diabetes and weight gain. It is also a concern if these nutrient-poor drinks replace intake of foods from the five food groups. While there are less kilojoules and added sugar in diet varieties, they can still be detrimental to bone and dental health as they are quite acidic. Carbonated beverages should not be an every day drink choice. Keep them for special occasions.

Bone health

Calcium is a vital nutrient, especially for children in the stages of early childhood when bones are growing. Most soft drinks (including diet varieties) contain phosphoric acid. This stops the drink from going flat and provides a tangy flavour. However, it also leaches calcium from your bones causing them to weaken and become brittle and prone to fractures.

The NSW Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS) found that school aged children are not meeting their daily requirements for dairy. Often if a child is drinking soft drink they will be consuming less milk. This coupled with the high levels of phosphoric acid being consumed, paints a bleak picture for the bone health of our children.

Tooth decay

The acid in both regular soft drinks and diet varieties causes tooth decay as it removes protective enamel. It has been found that children who consumed three or more cups of soft drinks a day were 46% more likely to have decayed or missing baby teeth.  The Australian Dental Association recommends limiting soft drink consumption for this  reason. Straws should always be used to drink soft drinks when they are consumed and children should be encouraged not to swish it around in their mouths to prevent contact with their teeth.

Intense sweeteners

All diet soft drinks are sweetened with artificial intense sweeteners such as sucralose, Acesulfame potassium and aspartame or natural intense sweeteners such as Stevia. Although Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) have reviewed the evidence and deemed artificial sweeteners safe for use in food and beverages in Australia, there is still controversy around the safety of these sweeteners. However, the level at which concern occurs is much higher than what a regular person would usually consume.