The Dangers of Electrolyte Replacement Drinks

While walking through Target the other day, I found myself navigating through crowds of parents and kids stocking up for the back-to-school season. Binders, pencils, glue sticks.

And Gatorade.

I had one of those not-so-great Domestica Moments where I quite literally froze in place and gasped in horror at the sight of parents and their 8-year-olds stocking their cart full of “kid-sized” Gatorade. The worst part is, these parents believe they are doing the right thing by making sure their children have all the “electrolytes” and “energy” they need to be healthy.

Marketing genius, I say! Genius!

Because in truth, they’re giving their kid 8 teaspoons of sugar and 130 unnecessary calories in just one bottle. And for what? To replace electrolytes that they’ve expended while walking from one class to another? Or during their weekly 20-minute PE class?


I had another one of those Domestica Moments just yesterday (although this time from the privacy of my own home where I could make a scene to my poor husband instead of Target).  As I poured over the mounds of school district policies, guidelines, rules, and other communication from the boys’ new school, I came across our school district’s “Nutrition Guidelines”.

I think the words, “Oh, this otta be good” came to mind as I began to read the one-page document.

Unfortunately, the message was well-intended but completely lacking. Most parents don’t even know there is sugar in a “fruit” roll-up, nevermind telling them that snacks must be:

Not more than 35% of total weight from sugar, including naturally occurring and added sugar (fruits and vegetables exempt).

I highly doubt the average busy parent is out there reading nutrition labels on the back of every snack they buy and then doing the math in their head of dividing the total grams of sugar by the total weight of the serving.  Let me remind you that we are the same society which has signs printed in every department store any time there’s a sale, spelling out what 25% off is when you buy something that’s $10. Seriously?

But I digress.

The point is — this document left a lot to be desired.  It was most definitely not the amazing picture-perfect document they hand out in our old Swiss school district, who’s policies go so far as to not even allow real fruit juice as a part of a child’s school lunch, never mind the sugar-laden “fruit gummies” and preservative-filled “crackers” that are so prevalent in our schools.

But what was most horrifying was when I got to the section of “approved” beverages for middle and high school. I was dumbfounded at the mixed messages:

How can we be so strict about banning all added sweeteners in every drink sold but then haphazardly allow up to 42 grams of sugar in the one next to them?!

AND 42 GRAMS?!  Yes folks, that calls for all caps.  To put this in perspective, I try to limit my entire sugar intake per day to 60 g!  What hormonally-imbalanced teenager needs 42 added grams of sugar in a beverage they probably shouldn’t be drinking anyway?!

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who thinks this is ridiculous.

According to California Project LEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition), a joint program of the California Department of Public Health and the Public Health Institute working to advance nutrition and physical activity policies in schools and communities, the California state’s 2005 legislation, which banned unhealthy foods such as soda, french fries, and donuts from being sold in public schools, has missed the point entirely when it comes to electrolyte replacement drinks.

The consumption of electrolyte replacement beverages, which are becoming increasingly popular in public schools, is associated with weight gain, diabetes and obesity. Beverage standards recommended by the Institute of Medicine call for the elimination of electrolyte replacement beverages from public schools to promote healthy beverage consumption.

… A loophole in California’s legislation allows electrolyte replacement beverages, a type of sugar sweetened beverage commonly referred to as sports drinks, to be sold in public middle and high schools¹.

When the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) decided to ban all electrolyte replacement drinks back in 2003 (without the prompting of any state legislation), Dana Woldow, co-chair of the district’s Student Nutrition & Physical Activity Committee, explained that the committee reached the decision to eliminate electrolyte replacement beverages after looking around schools and asking themselves,

“Do you see any students who appear to be in need of electrolyte replacement? We looked and didn’t see any! The proper use for these beverages is for rehydration after intense exercise which causes profuse sweating.”

But not all districts are as brave as the SFUSD. Most schools fear they will lose much-needed revenue by banning their best-selling electrolyte drinks. In fact, 8 of the top 10 beverages sold in California schools are electrolyte replacements². But California Project LEAN says otherwise.

In their recent Case Study of three California School Districts³, none of them experienced any major revenue losses after phasing out electrolyte replacement drinks. In fact, some schools saw water sales increase despite the fact that 100% fruit juices replaced many of the missing electrolyte drinks in the vending machines.

This goes back to what I always say — don’t underestimate the power of kids! They are smarter than we think. And their bodies know what they need. If you’re not clogging their brain with chemical and sugar addictions (from these sweetened, processed foods and beverages), they will most likely choose what their body truly needs. In this case, WATER.

Now if only we could all join them!

Domestically Yours,
Natasha Kay

  1. Project LEAN. Eliminating Electrolyte Replacement Beverages in California Public Schools. (2010).
  2. Samuels, S.The Impact of Competitive Food and Beverage Standards. (March 2009). Retrieved September 2010 from:
  3. Project LEAN. Eliminating Electrolyte Replacement Beverages in California Public Schools. (2010).

7 thoughts on “The Dangers of Electrolyte Replacement Drinks

  1. Natalie B says:

    Hear hear!! I’ve been flabbergasted that they’re selling chip and chocolate bar “snack packs” at the grocery store. I though maybe it was for Halloween, but nope! It’s for school! I can’t tell you how much I love, as a teacher, when a student has a sugar high and a crash during my class (insert sarcasm)

  2. Kristi says:

    Sports drinks have another sinister side effect that the general public is blissfully unaware of. . .They are the #1 most harmful beverage for your teeth because they are so acidic. They top the list worse than instant iced tea which comes in 2nd and worse than pop and orange and apple juice which are also highly acidic.

    Sports drinks are so acidic they literally disolve your enamel. Working as a CDA I routinely saw 10 year olds with cratters(can’t spell,like you see on the moons surface) on their 6 year molars and 9 times out of 10 when questioned they were consuming one of these beverages regularly. If this is what happens to enamel the hardest substance in our bodies what does it do to the rest of our tissues? The other cause for these cratter was acid reflux, which is also much more common these days than you would think.

    . . . Hope you don’t mind me taking over your blog for the moment Mrs. Fabulous!

  3. Jill says:

    Yikes. Gatorade in the lunchbox-that is wrong. My Mom and I were just flabbergasted with all the “handy” snack pack oreos and such at the store now. Scary.

  4. Dana Woldow says:

    Honored to be quoted here!
    For parents and others who would like to learn how to become advocates for better food in school, I have archived everything I have learned over the past decade working towards better nutrition in San Francisco’s public schools; you can read it all for free on my website

    • Natasha says:

      Thank you Dana! Your website is inspiring and full of fantastic resources for concerned parents and educators. Keep up the great work!

Comments are closed.