A few months ago, during a health supervision visit, I was discussing with one of my teenage patients the need to increase his calcium intake. He is a healthy athlete, involved in elite training and, being 17 years-old, capable of understanding and taking charge of his own diet.

Most teenagers want to learn about food. Especially if they are very involved with sports; some of them even express their desire to make a career out of their dreams. I try to spend some time helping them understand the sacrifices of being a professional athlete:

It involves lots of self-discipline.
It requires good interpersonal skills and the capability to follow directions without complaining.
They need good grades.
They must have a plan-B, meaning they need to have other career interests, not only as a default, in case they don’t make it into the professional world, but also because athletes have a short professional life and they need to acquire skills to serve them in their adult life.
They must take control of their eating habits, learning from the beginning about how to avoid junk food and how to maintain balanced meals.

Young people these days are amazing. This particular patient understood right away that his weakest point was calcium intake. He did not like milk very much so we discussed other alternatives that would help increase his calcium during the visit.

He returned to the office a few weeks later and he shared with me the changes he has implemented after our conversation. He found out, from the information I had given him and by checking some web sites, that by drinking 3 cups of milk per day he could meet his requirements of calcium for the day. Since he did not like regular milk, he was now drinking 3 full servings of chocolate milk instead. His sources told him that each cup or full serving of chocolate milk was able to provide him with 300 mg of calcium, and having 3 servings per day could total the 900 mg in a day we had discussed. He was also having yogurt and cheese occasionally, adding even more of the needed calcium for his growing bones.

At that point it was time to get out the calculator again. He now had to consider what is wrong with this picture.

Chocolate milk has 3 times the amount of sugar than regular milk does. If white milk has 11 grams of sugar per serving, chocolate milk can go up to 40 grams easily. When we consider 3 servings everyday, 7 days per week, we really add a large amount of sugar to the diet.

We came up with a grand total of 14 ounces of added sugar consumed in just one week from the innocent, good tasting chocolate milk. In one month my patient will be consuming over 3 lb of sugar in an attempt to comply with his calcium requirements.

Most of the drinks our children consume and love are full of added sugars. It can be cane sugar or it can be in the form of corn syrup; it is sugar after all. Our body stores the excess sugar in the form of fat and, by looking at the picture, you can easily understand how much insulin the pancreas must put out to handle the load.

It is now possible to multiply this figure to find out how much added sugar he is consuming in one month, or in a year. When the pancreas gives out, we arrive to the condition known as “insulin resistance”, which leads directly to diabetes.

I sometimes sound like a broken record and I realize that. But this young, smart boy encouraged me to continue my preaching.

Offer your children regular milk with the meals and water in between meals. Don’t negotiate this rule. Get rid of the sugar-containing drinks in the house. It they get some flavored drinks outside the house, it is not going to be that much and you are still controlling what you can. Good parenting involves disappointing our kids on occasion, but it is for a good cause.

You can do it!

About the Author

Dr. Katalenas

Dr. Katalenas is a pediatrician and owner of The Pediatric Center of Round Rock and the author of the book "The Step Up Diet: From Scratch… The Quality, Quantity, and Timing Solution to Childhood Obesity", a guide to healthy cooking and eating for busy families.