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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Watch Out For Hidden Calories In Sugary Drinks

Watch Out For Hidden Calories In Sugary Drinks

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Wed., January 6, 2010
By Diane Dooley, MD and Mary Jane Kiefer, MS, RD

"HOW CAN MY child be overweight?" exclaimed a mother recently when we discussed her child's obesity. "I give her only healthy foods!"

Even though parents might be aware that 40 percent of California's children are considered to be overweight, they are often surprised to learn that their child is too heavy.

Hidden calories often are the culprit. Finding those extra calories is a treasure hunt. Usually the first place to look is in the drinks—especially sodas and other sugary drinks—offered to children.

Experts increasingly point to sugar-sweetened beverages as a major cause of obesity in children. High-calorie beverages, like soda, come in all colors, sizes and packaging.

Most people are aware of the fact that children should not drink soda, which contains up to 17 teaspoons of sugar in each 20-ounce bottle. But they are often surprised to learn that sugar is found in a lot of other drinks commonly offered to children. For example:

  • Powdered Nestlé Quik contains about 4 teaspoons per serving
  • One Capri Sun pouch contains about 9.5 teaspoons
  • One 32-ounce Gatorade contains about 14 teaspoons

Even parents who buy 100 percent fruit juice are giving unnecessary calories to children as 100 percent apple juice contains more than 8 teaspoons of sugar per 10-ounce bottle.

Sugar is sugar, whether it comes from candy, Kool-Aid or fruit juice.

Deceptive and aggressive marketing can make it hard to choose which drinks to buy.

Parents need to read the labels on packages and watch serving sizes in order to avoid hidden, unnecessary calories. The key is to keep it simple: milk and water are the best.

Water helps your child stay cool and healthy. It is inexpensive and doesn't stain when it spills.

Tap water is the best because it is tested by the local water district and contains fluoride for protection against tooth decay.

Milk builds strong bodies, bones and teeth. Children should drink milk 3 or 4 times a day.

They should be off the bottle after their first birthday, and drink whole milk in a regular or sippy cup while they are 1 year old.

They should then be switched to 1 percent low-fat or nonfat milk on their second birthday.

Some tips to consider in offering healthier drinks to your child include:

  • Drink tap water: it's healthy and cheap, and often usually as pure and better for you than bottled water.
  • Stop buying sports drinks, sodas and juice drinks.
  • Serve juice only no more than once per day and keep the serving sizes small, about 2 to 4 ounces. Even 100 percent fruit juice can cause tooth decay.
  • Make water handy for children to serve themselves by filling cups and bottles with water to go.
  • Get colorful water bottles and cups to fill with water.
  • Keep water cold in the refrigerator.
  • Add fresh or frozen fruit to milk, instead of artificial sweeteners.

To avoid pediatric obesity and placing your child at risk of future health and emotional problems, like early heart disease, diabetes and poor self-esteem, ignore the heavily marketed sweetened drinks, and stick to water and milk. The treasure chest at the end will be a healthy, active child.

For more information, including healthy snack ideas and shopping tips, visit

Dooley is a pediatrician and Kiefer is a registered dietitian. Both work for Contra Costa Health Services.

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