My daughter has her first crush. It isn’t any of the boys in her nursery school (thankfully, as she just turned 4). Instead, she has a massive fascination with juice. It is all she can talk about. She used to ask for water every time she felt thirsty, but I guess she has sipped enough juice boxes to recognize that it tastes pretty darn good. She isn’t picky; any sort will do. Even the green juice I make at home attracts her eye, but although it is higher in nutrients than a typical juice box, I still don’t want her to replace her daily intake of water with juice.
The American Heart Association recommends that children consume no more than 12 grams of added sugar a day. One cup of apple juice has 24 grams of sugar, twice the daily allotted amount. Unlike whole fruit, juice lacks fiber, quickly releasing sugar into the bloodstream, causing a blood sugar rise and a resulting drop. Not an ideal scenario for a child’s mood, energy level, blood sugar or pancreas.
Coinciding with my daughter’s interest in juice, my boys are indignant that many of their friends drink soda and Gatorade on a regular basis. Sorry, boys – not going to happen. Our bodies need water. Plain, been-around-for-billions-of-years, unsweetened, unflavored, crystal-clear water.
Next to air, water is the most essential element to our survival. It is necessary for the proper function of every single cell in the body, and it makes up more than two-thirds of the body’s weight. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends children ages 4 to 8 get 1.3 liters a day, though exercise level, climate, medications and other factors can affect how much a particular child needs. For ages 9 to 13, the recommendation jumps to 2.1 liters for girls and 2.4 for boys.
“A mere 2 percent drop in the body’s water supply can trigger signs of dehydration such as fuzzy memory, daytime fatigue, trouble with math and difficulty focusing on small print,” Raymond Schep writes in his book “Eat Right for Life.” These are side effects we do not want our kids to experience during a school day. (We don’t want to experience them either, for that matter.)
Visualize a plum and a prune. Which one would you prefer your cells to resemble? Undoubtedly the plum; it looks healthier. When we become dehydrated, our cells shrink like a prune, making our brains and bodies sluggish, doctor and researcher Fereydoon Batmanghelidj writes in “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water.” No wonder we can develop headaches, muscle cramps and foggy brains. Try a glass or two of water instead of Advil for that next headache; it might be all you need.
Water protects the spinal cord and lubricates the joints. It also ensures that waste products move in and out of cells, and ultimately out of the body through sweat (which also regulates body temperature) and urine. Without adequate hydration, the colon pulls water from stools, resulting in a backup of waste and then constipation.
Water also helps to digest food by making saliva, moistening the digestive tract, and facilitating the absorption of nutrients into the cells. In other words, when we are hydrated, we gain more nutrition from the foods we eat.
Now you appreciate why I am ending my daughter’s relationship with juice before it has the chance to blossom. And why I am encouraging her to stay faithful to water.
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a Washington-based nutrition education company.