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Q: Are sports drinks okay to keep up with hydration? I just had ileostomy surgery and am confused by what's best to drink. What do you recommend?

In my opinion, sports drinks aren't much better for us than soda and should be avoided by just about everyone who isn’t a professional athlete, triathlete, or marathoner. One of the more popular brands is Gatorade, a beverage created in the 1960s for the University of Florida Gators football team. I'm a UF alum and lifetime Gator fan, but I have to discourage you (and especially your children) from regularly consuming Gatorade or similar beverages. "Children definitely don’t need sports drinks," says Dr. Claire McCarthy, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Just take a look at the ingredients in lemon-lime Gatorade (my favorite flavor before I knew better): Water, sugar, dextrose, citric acid, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, gum arabic, glycerol ester of rosin, natural flavor, and yellow 5.

Gum Arabic is quite the versatile additive — it’s used as a stabilizer in candies, watercolor paint, shoe polish, cosmetics, Gatorade, and more.

Glycerol ester of rosin is added as an emulsifier. Maybe it’s safe, maybe it’s not. The European Food Safety Authority is leaning towards the latter.

Yellow 5, or Tartrazine is a synthetic lemon yellow azo dye primarily used as a food coloring. It is legal in the U.S. but banned in other countries because of its possible link to cancer and hyperactivity in children.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "the term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

Gatorade’s big draw is its electrolytes, and it does have sodium and potassium, but you have to search through a pile of junk on the ingredient list. Also, sugar and dextrose are responsible for the 21 grams of added sugar per 12-ounce serving. The World Health Organization recommends we ingest no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day because consuming too much sugar leads to poor gut health, insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, obesity, fatty liver, and other harmful outcomes. Gatorade’s "G2" version replaces much of the sugar with artificial sweeteners (e.g. Equal, Splenda, and Sweet 'N Low) which can also lead to health problems.

A recent study reported that 1 in 5 parents believed that sports drinks are “good, healthy drinks for children.” Yet, why would parents or anyone else have reason to believe that Gatorade, the ultimate “thirst quencher” is anything but healthy? Marketing, that's why. In 2015 Gatorade spent nearly 130 million dollars in advertising, including reviving their iconic “Be Like Mike” commercial with Michael Jordan. I doubt MJ is guzzling Gatorade these days and neither should you.

Dehydration is the term for your body's reaction when you don't drink enough fluids. For this, clean water is the most logical form of hydration, which can be fruit-infused for added nutritional benefit. Flavored seltzer (if you can tolerate carbonation) or herbal teas are good alternatives. But if frequent or chronic dehydration results in loss of electrolytes, talk to a doctor or registered dietitian about making your own oral rehydration solution with real, recognizable ingredients.

In a liter container, combine the following ingredients (discard after 24 hours):

  • 1/2 L coconut water
  • 1/2 L water
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Dash of salt (between 1/8th to 1/4 tsp)
  • Fresh fruit for flavor, such as berries 

Replace half your water with this solution and sip throughout the day.

Visit Eat For Years for more information on health and nutrition.