Are health drink powders actually good for you?

Intro: India is one of the largest consumer markets for malt-based drinks in the world. Malt-based products are marketed as ‘health drinks’ and are specifically targeted at children, and their parents. They are often marketed as an essential product that provides holistic nutrition to the child, which is required for optimum growth. Take a look – One of the health drink powders claim that drinking of its powder added to milk can help your child grow taller, stronger, and sharper; another claims that it is “clinically proven” that its product aids “2x faster growth” in children. Yet another says the product contains “inner strength formula” that can help develop the brain, bones and muscles of the body. However, expert opinion is that these drinks don’t really deserve the ‘healthy’ tag, and contrary to their claims, may not even be the right supplements for children. Read this article to know more.

Richa Pande

Health drink powders have been designed to meet the nutritional needs of a child. They gained popularity in India due to India’s struggle with malnutrition and the country’s food and nutrition insecurity. The food insufficiency led to the development of protein-energy malnutrition in the country.  Also, young children hardly finish the meal they are served. It becomes convenient for parents and caretakers to add a premix containing essential nutrients to the meals of the young ones assuring optimum nutrition intake. But these days, India is not just dealing with child undernutrition but also overnutrition. Evidence suggests that there is a significant increase in childhood obesity and overweight in most of the Indian states in the past decade. The problem with these health drink premixes is that they have fewer amounts of protein, minerals and vitamins as they claim they have. And also, they are loaded with sugar, which is a concern. 

For example, if you add three teaspoons, i.e. one tablespoon of 15g of health drink A (real name not disclosed) to a glass of milk, you add 12 g of sugar and just 2grams of protein 100 mcg of calcium to your child’s meal. If parents add 1-2 teaspoons of sugar in the milk, you are giving 22 grams of sugar to your child in one meal, when the child is just supposed to have 30 grams of added sugar in a day (maximum). The sugar in this meal is too high! A child needs 700 mcg of calcium in a day, and the powder provides 100 mcg, and a single glass of plain milk provides about 300 mcg of calcium. So, with just 2-3 portions of dairy in your child meal, which could include milk, curd, paneer, etc., you could meet your child’s calcium requirements. Like calcium, other micronutrients in these drinks are in minuscule amounts. Micronutrients are essential in small quantities as they enable the human body to perform and enhance several physiological functions.

Despite the claims, the reality is that these drinks do not provide sufficient micronutrients to the child considering the amount of powder added to the milk, as discussed above. When you add them to your child’s milk glass, you are not adding HEALTH/ NUTRIENTS to it; you are simply adding TASTE in milk. Parents can smartly deal with the taste and milk acceptability issue in consultation with a diet expert.

Why added sugar is to be avoided?

When your children fill up on sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, they may have little room left for the nutritious options that growing bodies need, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meat, & poultry. Moreover, sugar is addictive, plus too much sugar can also lead to weight gain and increase the risk of your child developing dental cavities. Too much sugar during childhood may lead to unhealthy cravings as kids grow older. In excess, sugar can lead to obesity, which puts a child at risk of developing high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and type 2 diabetes.

Reading food labels can help you pick a better brand/ or enable you to choose whether you want to give these health drink powders to your child or not. Check nutritive values and the recommended serving size by the brand. If a brand recommended serving size is 20g to meet the nutritional requirements claimed on the pack, one serving would contain about 9-18 grams of sugar. Compare the values, and then make a choice. Check the protein levels and micronutrient levels in your brand.

Check the ingredient list

As with most packaged food products, the ingredients list of the malt-based drinks is quite revealing. While the primary ingredient is malt, the following item is almost always sugar. If you don’t find this on the list, look for maltodextrin. If you find it, the health drink isn’t good for your child.

No Sugar, but does it contain maltodextrin?

Maltodextrin has no nutritional value. However, it is a very easy-to-digest carbohydrate and can provide energy rapidly. Due to this, manufacturers add this powder to many sports drinks and snacks. It can impact the gut microbiota of your child’s gut and could adversely impact her health. Maltodextrin has an even higher glycemic index (GI) than table sugar. It means that maltodextrin can cause a sharp increase or spike in an individual’s blood sugar levels shortly after eating foods that contain it. Some children can also be allergic to maltodextrin. It can cause allergic reactions, weight gain, gas, flatulence, and bloating.

So, what is the alternative?

Give your children malts prepared at home if feasible with minimally added sugar or avoid added sugar altogether. Malt beverages can be a good source of energy and protein for your child. You can always speak to a diet expert to guide you about preparing the malt mixes with less sugar and more protein, calcium and other micronutrients. If it’s not feasible for you to prepare these mixes at home, there are other ways to enhance the taste of the milk, like adding cardamom or saffron to the milk. To meet the micronutrients needs, encourage your child to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Add fruit shakes to your child’s diet, if possible, without added sugar. Children may take shakes with added sugar may be taken two-three times a week.

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