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The #1 Worst Drink for Your Child's Brain, Suggests New Study

Kids between the ages of 6 and 12 are better off sticking with water than this popular beverage.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Odds are, you already spend a fair amount of time thinking about how your child's diet affects their body. You may be keeping a careful eye on their calcium consumption to make sure their bones develop as they should, you're probably thinking about their vitamin C intake to make sure they have strong immune systems, and you could be keeping track of how different meals impact their energy levels. In fact, the foods that children eat affect more than just their bodies—they're also key to their cognitive health. Now, new research finds that, for elementary school-aged kids, sugary soft drinks could be hurting their brain function.

In the study, published in the journal Nutrients, researchers examined about 6,400 children ages 6-12, asking them how often they consumed sugar-sweetened drinks and how many they drank. They compared these responses to children's performance on tests of executive function. Greater consumption of sugary drinks was linked with worse performance on these assessments.

Executive function has to do with more than just, say, how well your kid will do on the spelling test. Sure, the tests measured cognitive skills like working memory and the ability to organize, but they also included measures of how well the kids could control their emotions and monitor their behaviors. So basically, when it comes to executive function, you can see the impact at school and at home.

soda
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"This serves as an excellent reminder to parents that soda, energy drinks, and juices should not be the primary beverages offered at home or made available to kids," Michelle Babb, MS, RD, author of Anti-Inflammatory Eating for a Happy, Healthy Brain and Mastering Mindful Eating, tells Eat This, Not That! "Good old-fashioned water should be the drink of choice. It can be infused with berries, citrus, or even cucumbers to make it more appealing."

If you are going to go with something sweeter, Babb recommends diluting 100% pure fruit juice so that it's 70% water, 30% juice, or opting for a homemade smoothie with fresh fruits and vegetables.

It's especially important to limit sugary sodas to just an every-so-often drink because these impacts on cognitive function aren't limited to the short-term. Research from earlier this year finds that drinking too much soda in childhood can also take a toll on kids' minds later in life, impairing their memory in adulthood.

For tips on the specific beverages you should avoid if you want your child's mind to function the best it can, be sure to steer clear of these 50 Drinks With More Sugar Than a Hershey's Bar.

Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more
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