Sugary drinks at school, a leading cause of obesity and impaired learning

JANUARY 18, 2016

With hundreds of thousands of learners back at school, parents are reminded to restock their fridges and pantries with foods and beverages that provide brain-boosting nutrients to help their children perform at their best.

SA’s recently released National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES) refers to the poor state of children’s school lunches in the country. Of particular concern is the high intake of sugary cool drinks – about 2 in 3 learners buy sugary drinks at least twice a week, with each soft drink containing up to 55g of sugar. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) that is 40g more sugar than the recommended maximum daily limit for children.

Drinking too many sugary drinks is considered to be the leading cause of obesity in adolescents, especially among schoolboys. The study points out that the prevalence of obesity has doubled in teenage boys the past six years, making them more prone to chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes.

According to nutritional experts, these beverages are loaded with empty calories and provide little or no essential nutrients. They are linked not only to weight gain but also to poor health and tooth decay in children. Nutritionists recommend water or herbal teas as a healthier alternative to fizzy drinks or sugar filled fruit juices, with Rooibos tea topping the list.

Ernest du Toit, spokesperson of the SA Rooibos Council says Rooibos is as effective as water for hydrating the body and has additional health properties that water doesn’t have.

“Rooibos is affordable, tasty and amazingly beneficial for children. It is rich in antioxidants which helps to protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals and can reduce the risk of a variety of diseases, including cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Rooibos also prevents DNA damage, inflammation and is helpful in combating diabetes.

“Added to this, Rooibos contains no caffeine, fats or carbohydrates, is a natural immune-booster and relieves allergy symptoms, which are common in children,” remarks du Toit.

Sugary drinks have also been found to have an adverse effect on children’s brains. A study conducted by the University of California revealed that consuming excessive quantities of sugar-sweetened drinks can have a major impact on children’s brain function and impair their ability to concentrate and learn at school.

In contrast, Rooibos tea will keep your child’s mind sharp since it shields the brain from stress and it protects against a process known as lipid peridoxation (whfree radicals damage brain cells and nerve tissues.)

Du Toit adds that Rooibos is also incredibly nutrient-rich. “It is rich in Vitamin C, calcium, manganese and fluoride, helps to build strong bones and teeth, and is safe to consume without limit.”

To help parents pack refreshments that will make the grade, the SA Rooibos Council has compiled the following Rooibos iced tea- and popsicle recipes that will have the kids asking for more.

Rooibos iced tea:

One litre of Rooibos tea using four to six teabags

Sweeten the tea with honey to taste and leave it in the fridge to cool overnight

Experiment with this basic iced tea, by adding mint, lemon, orange, granadilla, mango or apple, or a combination of flavours until you find one that your children love. You can even get them involved in mixing their own flavours.

Note: Juiced or squeezed fresh fruit usually delivers the best results, but you can also use preservative-free fruit juice. Mixing it with cold Rooibos will make it go further and keeping a jug of it in the fridge should mean you don’t have to keep buying juice. The good news is that cold rooibos can be kept in the fridge for up to two weeks without spoiling.

Rooibos ice-lollies:

By pouring some Rooibos iced tea into popsicle containers or ice-cube trays and freezing it, you can also make fun, refreshing, healthy after school or sports treats.