Summers with intense heat are here to stay. We are in an era of extremes all around, and our climate is no exception. Mix high heat, high humidity, and high altitude and you have a potentially dangerous combination for any age. Besides keeping cool with AC, a pool, a fan, a garden hose, or whatever is at hand, here are some food and nutrition replenishment and preparation steps to help kids play safely.
Pre-Hydrate: Living at mile-high altitude and frequently playing at altitudes of 10-12,000 feet for hiking, biking or skiing, my family knows the drill: Don’t chase dehydration! It’s a losing game, one which we’ve seen end in the ER for visiting friends or family who didn’t want to keep drinking so much water. The dehydrating effect of altitude sets in without notice, and heat can do the same. Don’t let either sneak up on your kids!
- Don’t wait for the fainting spell, nausea, vomiting, or pounding headaches to set in before taking enough fluids. If your child has reached this point, get to the ER for intravenous fluids and give whatever fluids are at hand on the way there.
- Other signs of dehydration to watch for are muscle cramping, muscle weakness, confusion, sunken eyes, or irregular heart beat. Stop activity, find shade and cooler space, and take fluids.
- During warm weather, let your kids have plenty to drink – and not just water. Give electrolytes, juices, and frozen fruit slushies or popsicles.
- Allow plenty of salty foods, and use Himalayan pink salt if you can. It is less likely to have micro plastic pollution than sea salt, and offers dozens of minerals that the body uses to maintain normal blood pressure, temperature, heart contraction, and muscle function.
What About Electrolyte Drinks? There is a lot of hullaballoo about the good and bad ingredients in sports drinks like Gatorade, or electrolyte drinks like PediaLyte. Though they do have imperfect ingredients, don’t keep this hydration from your child so you can hold out for the homemade organic version you forgot at home! More harm than good will be had from not restoring the few minerals and helpful ingredients in these, than from occasional consumption of the junky sweeteners or artificial colors in them. Use them if you have no alternative.
For a cleaner alternative, I like KinderLyte, which is available ready to drink or powdered so you can pack it easily for travel, hiking, biking or camping, and add water on the spot. It has no artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors or preservatives. It also has no fructose or high fructose corn syrup. The calorie source in it is non-GMO dextrose, which is a naturally occurring molecule of two glucose units hitched together – the same stuff that will be in the IV if you do end up in the ER needing hydration. It works fast. And the electrolyte profile in it is higher than other brands; KinderLyte even offers a “core” version with even more electrolyte replenishment in it.
Homemade drinks may work too. Some recipes call for honey or white grape juice plus salt, which naturally have both fructose and glucose, among other types of natural sugars. This may be fine for upstream day to day hydration, but for carrying critical sodium into the body and into cells quickly, nothing beats glucose. A transport mechanism activates in the gut when the right concentrations of sodium, glucose, and water are present – making all three absorb more quickly. This is why I prefer to leave this to the experts in a commercial preparation like KinderLyte, over my own kitchen tinkering (which I love to do!). When the body needs quick restoration of minerals and hydration, I don’t want to mess around.
The Key Players: Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium, Chloride A careful balance of all these minerals keeps everything running smoothly, from how our hearts beat, to controlling water levels and maintaining blood pressure, to how muscles contract and whether we’re thinking straight!
- Make mineral rich foods routine in your kids’ meals. Vegetables and dark greens, meats, eggs, nuts and seeds and their butters, lentils, Pinto beans, seaweed snacks or nori, juiced celery, arugula, chard, and even cocoa powder deliver minerals across the board. Keep these going every day. Kale chips anyone?
- If you’ve got a house full of picky white-diet eaters (cheese, milk, yogurt, bread, crackers, pasta, butter, toast, pizza, cookies, chips), you’re gonna need a good multivitamin that includes a complement of minerals too (most kids’ multivitamins have just that – vitamins – but few or no minerals). This Child Life Liquid is a good option while you keep up the good work in getting your kids to eat mineral rich foods – they still need them. If your kids are swallowing capsules, you can also buy a multi-mineral option like this one to complement their food intake. These supplements can give your kids something of a baseline for minerals to help metabolic functions, day to day.
Food, Fuel, Function – Compared to vitamins, we need relatively big amounts of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium to function day to day. Amounts we need vary with age, circumstance, activity – but, picture spoonfuls. So when you see that a product has 100 milligrams (mg) of say, calcium in it, that’s only about 5% of your total daily calcium need. If you lumped all the calcium you need in a day into one bite, it would be about a half teaspoon of pure calcium powder. Your total magnesium need in a day is similar – but many experts contend this is too low, even for ordinary activities day to day. Potassium, same story – somewhere between a half to even a whole teaspoon of it, depending on how much you’re sweating, or losing fluids by vomiting or diarrhea. Sodium? Same!
All of these will be expelled and used at higher rates when we are at altitude and in stressful high heat conditions. We need a lot of them, plus water!
- Carry high potassium snacks like oranges, bananas, watermelon, potato chips (bonus if they’re super salty), or nuts.
- Avoid dense sugary snacks like dried fruit. They have high potassium and calories, but low water, and this high sugar to low water imbalance may be nauseating if dehydration is setting in.
- Calcium rich foods to pack are almonds or baked treats made with almond flour, sesame tahini bars, hummus with almond flour crackers, and of course dairy foods if your kids tolerate them. Many cereals are calcium fortified – build some into a trail mix with raisins, almonds, dark chocolate chips, sunflower seeds or any safe nuts.
- Snacks for high magnesium are cocoa powder or dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds (this is my fave brand), plantain chips, cashews, kale chips, and edamame.
- If fast sources of calcium are needed and your child can’t manage to eat food high in calcium, calcium lactate capsules or powder are quickest to absorb. I have been known to chew capsules on the chair lift if feeling a little loopy while riding up to 12,000 feet! Calcium lactate can quickly settle muscle cramps and heart palpitations. Another helper I’ve often used is a product called Cal-Amo, which provides chloride and helps balance pH in the blood.
Kids need a lot of food. They need about three times as much food per pound as adults, because they’re growing, and their metabolisms are running faster than ours all the time. On high activity days, high heat days, or high altitude days, consider doubling calories from there – if they’re craving that burger and fries post game or once you’re down off the trail, go for it. Metabolic rate goes up dramatically and your kids will need to replenish. It’s ok to use really high calorie foods if that’s what they’re after! A shake, some fries, a gooey pizza – Occasional forays into these foods will not hurt, unless you are aware of allergies or other issues for your kids when eating these.
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