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What's In Your Child's Drink?
By Jennifer Cerbasi
April 2, 2012

Recently, I fell ill and suffered from a stomach virus for a few days. Unable to get out of bed for hours, I desperately reached for a Fruit Punch Gatorade as my best option for replenishing my strength. I ignored everything I've learned about dyes and sugars and got myself an eight-pack of the red poison.


The Gatorade was the only thing that appealed to- and was tolerated by- my weak stomach so I drank four (yes, four!) Gatorades during the course of the day. When it came time for bed my body decided it wasn't bed time. Since the only thing I consumed all day was the Gatorade, it made me think Is my body reacting to the dyes and sugars?


As I read the ingredients on the bottle, I began to wonder about the effect of each. The ingredients listed on the bottle of Fruit Punch Gatorade are water, sucrose, dextrose, citric acid, natural flavor, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, modified food starch, red 40, glycerol ester of rosin, and caramel color.


Ingredients are listed on labels in order from greatest amounts to least, so the second ingredient in a Fruit Punch Gatorade is table sugar. In addition to the obvious effect of hyperactivity, a 2007 study by University of Hawaii and University of Southern California researchers suggested a high intake of sucrose may lead to an increased chance of developing pancreatic cancer.


Caramel color in colas recently came under fire as 4-methylimidazole, an ingredient in caramel color, was added in January to a list of chemicals under California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65. This change has prompted Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. to change the production of ingredients to avoid having to label their products with a cancer warning.


The effects of red 40 have been hotly debated for decades. A 1983 study by Charles V. Voorhees, published in Toxicology, connected a daily dose of red 40 in rats to decreased reproductive success in adults, decreased birth weight, brain weight, and survival rate in offspring, and decreased running wheel activity in all subjects.


The Feingold Diet strongly supports the elimination of dyes, additives, and sugars from the diets of children exhibiting hyperactive behaviors. Dr. Feingold believed that additives exacerbated symptoms in children who had pre-existing conditions. His hypothesis, which is essentially his summation of his findings, states, "Any compound, natural or synthetic, can induce an adverse reaction if the individual has the appropriate genetic profile, i.e., disposition."


I personally have seen a child who had the amount of red dye and sugar in his diet drastically reduced and saw a decrease in hyperactive behavior, an increase in frustration tolerance, and an overall more stable mood. His family continues to monitor the amounts of such ingredients in his diet.


It's not just Gatorade. Many fruit juices and sports drinks contain incredible amounts of sugars, dyes, additives and not enough pure, healthy ingredients. I have seen children with a bagel and a Gatorade at 7:00 am on their way to school. If sugar and dyes affect that child, he is looking at a long morning of distractions and lack of focus.


Also, keep in mind that sports drinks are suggested for serious athletes who are engaging in strenuous physical activity for long periods of time. Though Algebra may be challenging, it's certainly not a reason for your child to grab a sports drink to quench his thirst after his second period class.


Try water with a few slices of fresh fruit as a tasty alternative. Starting healthy habits at home helps your child make good choices when he's standing in front of a vending machine without you to help him make the right decision. 

Jennifer Cerbasi works as a special education teacher at a public school in New Jersey. As owner of The Learning Link, LLC, she also works with parents in the home to support children's academic, social, emotional, and physical health through a variety of services. Jennifer utilizes her training in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis in both settings to foster children's development. Jennifer writes articles about current topics in education for the Fox News website. For more information, go to