As a parent, you're concerned that your child has a healthy diet. That means you have to set a good example. If you regularly consume soft drinks, your child is almost three times more likely to have a soft drink most days of the week, according to a University of Minnesota study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
In fact, your beverage habits hold more sway than those of your children's friends, say researchers who surveyed 560 children ages 8 to 13.
By using your influence to curb soft drinks you're taking an important step to improving your child's nutrition.
"When children drink soft drinks their milk consumption goes down," says Jeannie Moloo, a spokesperson for the Chicago-based American Dietetic Association.
"That's significant because milk is important to bone mass development. If we have a population of children consuming soft drinks and displacing milk we might be headed down a path of weaker bones and osteoporosis later on," says Moloo, a dietician who practices in Roseville, Calif.
If that's not enough to encourage you to switch from soft drinks to water and skim milk, think of how much sugar your child is getting. That same survey says only 15 percent of children choose diet soft drinks; most drink full-calorie beverages, getting 16 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle.
"You [parents] wouldn't feed 16 teaspoons of sugar to your child in one sitting," Moloo says.
No doubt soft drinks have a competitive edge over milk and water because children like the sweet taste. The choice doesn't have to be all or nothing.
"Low-fat flavored milk is fine," says Dr. Barbara Frankowski with the Vermont Children's Hospital in Burlington. "The extra sugar in flavored milk is balanced by protein and calcium."
Fat-free milk and water are the healthiest choices for parents, too. Research shows women who drink sugar-sweetened beverages have an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and gaining weight.
Better candy? Halloween is practically a license to pig-out on candy. But should you opt for reduced-carbohydrate or low-sugar confections to reduce your child's sugar consumption?
These products usually substitute sugar alcohols such as mannitol, xylitol and sorbitol for sugar in candies.
Sugar alcohol sweeteners don't contribute as many carbohydrates as sugar; are lower in calories than sugar and don't promote tooth decay. But sugar alcohol isn't well absorbed by the body; too much can lead to digestive problems such as cramps, bloating and diarrhea.
On the plus side, sugar alcohol isn't fermented in the mouth so it doesn't promote dental decay, says Julie Miller Jones, nutrition professor at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn.
If your child doesn't have a medical reason (such as diabetes) for choosing a candy made with sugar alcohol, stick with sugar-containing sweets, says Amy Campbell, a registered dietitian with the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
"I wouldn't make the trade-off. Foods with sugar alcohols are sometimes higher in fat. Instead of serving a candy [with a sugar substitute], buy natural snacks with less sugar," says Campbell.
Gingersnaps Here is a delicious cookie for a Halloween party. The recipe is adapted from the American Heart Association Kids' Cookbook (Time Books, 1993).
1 1/2 sticks (10 tablespoons) soft margarine 1 cup sugar 1 egg 1/4 cup molasses 1 teaspoon butter-flavored extract 2 cups sifted flour 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground cloves 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Beat the margarine and sugar at medium speed in an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about four to five minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Add the egg to the mixer. Beat at low or medium speed until well blended. Combine the molasses and butter-flavored extract in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and baking soda in a large bowl and mix well. Add half the flour mixture to the mixing bowl. Beat at low speed until blended. Add the molasses and beat at low speed until blended. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat at low speed until blended.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheet for 1 minute. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 5 dozen cookies.
Bev Bennett is the mother of two and the author of 30 Minute Meals for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2003).