The best health drink in India for the growing child

Who doesn’t want their child to be “Taller- Stronger- Sharper” or to provide “3 times more stamina”? But which is the best health drink in India which is capable of fulfilling all the expectations? If your child is between 5 to 15 yr, it’s obvious that claim like “strong bone, strong muscle, and active brain” will impress you or will make you curious about the product. Today, health drink has become an integral part of any kid’s diet. No matter whatever he or she is eating throughout the day but at least once a day health drink is a must. Your supermarket, the pharmacy has dedicated an entire section for various health drinks just to make your child smart, strong and bright. WOW.

Best health drink in India 1

But being a smart parent you must have 3 questions before buying a “health drink”-

1. How to choose the best health drink in India?
2. Is the health drink necessary?
3. Are there any alternatives to commercial health drink?

Let’s try to get the answer of each question one by one.

How to choose the best health drink in India for a growing child?

Choosing a health drink is not easy especially when there are too many options. Each health drink company give their best effort to market their product.

Apart from bringing celebrity in the ad- campaign, They attract your attention time to time by highlighting on-
• catchy tag-line and/or,
• some unheard name of essential nutrient/component which is not available otherwise and/or,
• 2-4 times higher amount of nutrients especially vitamins, minerals and protein than rest of the product

Don’t get carried away with the bright packaging and fantastic health benefits of such health drinks. Follow these simple steps to pick the best one –

• Ignore the glossy front rather focus on the information given in small font at the backside of the package
• Check the name of the first ingredient – the primary ingredient. Generally, the list places the ingredients as per the amount (in %) being used in the final product. The ingredient used the most is generally placed at the first and the one used least kept at the last.
• Check the positioning of Sugar in the ingredient list – If sugar is mentioned in the middle to end of the list is better
• Spot the hidden sugar -there are more than 63 names of SUGAR. So learn at least a few to spot.
• Count the number of ingredients – lesser the better
• Check the name of the ingredients – simpler the best. If most of the ingredients are difficult to pronounce and new to you, then it’s not wise to buy the packet

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Which is the best health drink available in the Indian market –

As mentioned earlier that Indian market is loaded with various health drinks. There are products for 1- 5 yr – typically called the “junior” category and for 5 yr and above. Health drinks in India are sold either in the name of general health drink or as special protein preparation (eg- Proteinex).
I have reviewed a total of 11 popular health drinks which are suggested best for children between the age of 5 to 15 yr and more. The brands are –

1. Complan
2. Horlicks
3. Horlicks Growth
4. Bournvita
5. Boost
6. Amul Pro
7. Pediasure
8. V Nourish Choco Cookie
9. Maltovita
10. Manna Health Mix
11. Patanjali Power Vita

Let’s find out the best health drink among these 11 brands based on the key points discussed above.

1. Primary Ingredient

The first ingredient mentioned in the ingredient list is generally the primary ingredient used in the health drink. In India, all popular health drinks can be categorized into two groups –
• Malt based health drink where malted cereal (germinated and dried barley /wheat powder) is the primary ingredient
OR,
• Milk-based health drink where milk solid or skimmed milk powder is the primary ingredient

Table 1 : Popular health drink categorized as per primary ingredient

Malt Based Health Drink (%Malt extract used) Milk Based Health Drink (% of milk solid used)
Horlicks (39%) Complan (46.9%)
Bournvita (51%) Horlicks Growth (39.7%)
Boost (49%) Pediasure (percentage not mentioned)
Amul Pro (percentage not mentioned)
Maltovita (46%)
Manna Health Mix (82%)
Patanjali Power Vita (42.7%)

Choose the health drink considering your child’s preference and allergy(if any) for the primary ingredient.

2. Positioning of Sugar

You have probably stopped taking extra sugar in tea/ coffee for health reason. If you are trying to avoid excess or hidden sugar in your food, you must be careful to do the same for your child. WHO has recommended limiting the intake of free sugar less than 10% of total calorie intake. That means for a 2000kcal diet, one must not consume more than 10 teaspoons of free sugar (i.e maximum 50 g) throughout the day from all sources.

As per the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the calorie requirement of Indian children is as follows –

Table 2: Maximum sugar limit for children

Age of
the
Child
Approx
Body
wt. (Kg)
Total calorie
required per day
Maximum limit of
free sugar per day
(visible or hidden)
Maximum no of tsp
of sugar allowed per
day from all sources
(visible or hidden)
4-6 yr 18 1350 34 g 6-7 tsp
7-9 yr 25.1 1690 42 g 8 tsp
10-12 yr (Boy) 34.3 2190 55 g 11 tsp
10-12 yr (Girl) 35 2010 50 g 10 tsp
13- 15 yr (Boy) 47.6 2750 69 g 14 tsp
13- 15 yr (Girl) 46.6 2330 58 g 11 tsp

Reference- Nutritive Value of Indian Foods, NIN, 2016

Today sugar addiction is a reality, a proven fact. Consuming sugar in excess daily has an obvious harmful effect on health. Since companies generally place the ingredient in the list as per the amount used in the final product, the position of SUGAR in the list is something to watch for. Even if the percentage is not mentioned but its position can tell you a lot that you must know. It is always better if the sugar is placed at the middle or end side of the list. (1, 2)

Table 3 : Positioning of sugar in the ingredient list of popular health drink

Brand Position of sugar
(% of sugar)
Amount of sugar
(per 100 g)
Amount of sugar
in one serving
(per 30 g)
Complan
(Classic)
2 (% not mentioned) 25 g 7.5 g
Horlicks
(Original)
4 (% not mentioned) 13.5 g 4.05 g
Horlicks
Growth
2 (% not mentioned) 26.9 g 8.07 g
Bournvita 2 (% not mentioned) 32 g 9.6 g
Boost 2 (% not mentioned) 9.5 g 2.85 g
Amul Pro 2 (% not mentioned) 32.7 g 9.81 g
Pediasure 2 (% not mentioned) 24.51 g 7.35 g
V Nourish
Choco cookie
1 (% not mentioned) 52.95 g 15.88 g
Maltovita 2 (% not mentioned) 19 g 5.7 g
Manna Health Mix No added sugar
Patanjali
Power Vita
2 (sugar cane juice-38.5%) 72.66 g 21.79 g

Shockingly, most of your favorite health drinks have kept sugar at the 2nd position. A comparatively new brand V Nourish have listed sugar in the first position. Starting from approximately 4.05 g (in Boost) to 72.66 g (in Patanjali Power Vita) of sugar has been mentioned on the label of the health drinks. It means these health drinks contain 1-5 tsp of sugar per serving. Manna Health mix has been found to contain almost no sugar in their product.

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3. Spot the hidden sugar –

Are you thinking 1-5 tsp of sugar is fine for your child as the daily allowance is way higher? If yes, then lets read the line again. It says based on the calorie requirement, maximum 6-14 tsp of sugar is allowed from ALL SOURCES -visible or hidden.
If you think you are smart? Then these companies are way smarter to sell their products. They use more than 63 names for sugar. So even if your product list mentions no sugar, sugar can still be added using some other name or in the name of some syrup. They combine various types of sugar along with natural sugars and try to market the product as “healthy sugar”.

Check the packet of the health drink you are using now and see if these names are there in the ingredient list –
• Maltodextrine
• Glucose syrup solid
• Liquid glucose
• Sucrose
• Corn solids

All the products that I have reviewed, except Manna Health Mix, most of the products have used 2-3 types of sugar names (listed above) and have placed them between 2nd to 4th position in the ingredient list. So don’t fall for only the written SUGAR content, the actual sugar content is way higher than mentioned on the label. (3)
Feeling cheated? Wait there are more.

Read- Sugar and weight loss-let’s have not so sweet talk

4. Number of ingredients –

As mentioned earlier – lesser the better. Yes, less no of ingredients are always good indicating addition of less number of preservatives and other chemicals. Let’s check the number of ingredients present in popular health drinks.

Table 4 : No of ingredients in popular health drink

Brand No of ingredients mentioned in the list
Complan (Classic) 14
Horlicks (Original) 10
Horlicks Growth 18
Bournvita 13
Boost 13
Amul Pro 11
Pediasure 13
V Nourish Choco cookie 17
Maltovita 13
Manna Health Mix 5
Patanjali Power Vita 20

5. Name of the ingredients –

All the popular health drinks that I have reviewed are somewhat a combination of the following ingredients except Manna Health Mix.

Table 5: Details of ingredients added to popular health drinks

Ingredients Purpose of use
Processed food ingredients
Malt extract, Skimmed milk powder,
Soy protein isolates
The basic ingredients, the prime source of carbohydrate and
protein
Edible vegetable oil To provide the calorie and fat
Sugar with various name
Sugar, Maltodextrine, Glucose syrup solid, Liquid glucose, Sucrose, Corn solids To make the product tasty and
addictive
Additional Nutrients as ingredients
Vitamins, Minerals Most of the vitamins and minerals get lost during processing of
the food ingredients in the large scale. So additional micro
nutrients are added.
DHA Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) ,an omega 3 fatty acid, produced in your body in little amount – important for multiple health reason- brain development, eye
health etc
Taurine It’s an amino acid formed in the body. It has many health benefits-balancing electrolyte,
helping in digestion, support function of nervous system etc
L-Carnitine It’s amino acid derivatives, produced in the body to transfer fat into the cell to produce
energy.
Inositol It’s a carbohydrate, found in body- affect neurotransmitters,
improve glucose sensitivity etc.
Inulin, Fructo Oligosachharide These are soluble fiber present in plants- act as prebiotic which helps to promote gut health and better absorption of all
nutrients
Chemicals used in the ingredient list
Emulsifier (INS 471), (322,471), (INS412) To mix the water and oil based ingredients of the product, give a smooth texture and to enhance the shelf life.
Stabilizer(INS340(ii)),(INS 415) They smoothen the texture of the product and aggravate the effect of emulsifiers
Flavouring agent, Colouring agent,
Annato (INS 160b), natural colour (INS 100(i))
Used for giving a particular color and flavor to the product which makes it more acceptable to the consumers
Acidity regulator (INS501(ii), 500 (ii)),
(INS500 ii,INS 501 ii)
It is used to control the pH of the product which minimize the chances of growth of microorganisms and improve the shelf life of the product.
Raising Agent (500(ii)) It is used to give lightness to the product, mainly used in baked product but sometimes used in health drinks also

How many familiar food names you get to see here? A very few, right?

The food ingredients used in the product are moderate to ultra-processed – milk solid, corn solid, soy protein isolates, etc. Most of the nutrients of these products completely lost during processing. This is one of the major reason for adding vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients further to sound the product healthy.

Note that there are 6 different names of sugar are being used on the ingredient list other than SUGAR. Wondering why? To create a sharp taste and also to make the product addictive to the child.
Just look at the chemical load in each health drink – emulsifier, stabilizer, acidity regulator, artificial color, flavor, etc are being used to make the product attractive as well as to increase the shelf life.

Read – Which is the best cooking oil in India

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But vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are being added. Those are good right?

Wrong. A product containing a good amount of vitamins, minerals or other nutrients does not mean anything. The product considered as nutritious when they get absorbed and assimilate in the body. Artificially added vitamins and minerals are often found to be inconsistent during absorption.
It is best to secure your micro nutrients from natural food sources. They get absorbed well if eaten at the right time and the right quantity. Most of the nutrients – carnitine, taurine, DHA, etc- are formed in our body. So if you manage to develop a healthy eating habit for your child, he/she does not need any artificial nutrient support. Besides this, these nutrients are available in food sources. Therefore a balanced wholesome diet is enough to make your child “taller”, “stronger” and “sharper”.

Do you know a few brands have even failed to prove the nutrient content written on the label with the actual lab result? It has been found that companies have mentioned way more nutrient content than actual. (4, 5)

But what about the studies mentioned in advertisements?

These studies are very limited in number. It is needless to say that they are often sponsored to create hype on the product. Even if not sponsored the studies to have limitations like biased research methodology, small sample size, etc.(6, 7, 8, 9)

Read – Top 6 food advertisement fool you everyday

Are these health drinks are worth the price?

If you have read the article till now, You know that the answer is NO. Spending rupees 10 to 42 for a cup of “health drink” which is loaded with moderate to ultra-processed food ingredients, chemical, sugar, and mostly un-absorbable vitamin and minerals is a sheer waste of your heard-earned money. Stop being fooled by the false catchy advertisements and start checking the facts.

Table 6: Comparison of cost of popular health drinks in Indian market

Brand Cost of
100 g (INR)
Cost of one serving- INR
(30 g-approx 2 tablespoons)
Complan (Classic) 49 14.7
Horlicks (Original) 39 11.7
Horlicks Growth 137.5 41.25
Bournvita 32 9.6
Boost 40.2 12.06
Amul Pro 34 10.2
Pediasure 142.5 42.75
V Nourish Choco cookie 157.5 47.25
Maltovita 46 13.8
Manna Health Mix 36 10.8
Patanjali Power Vita 39 11.7

Okay, if not best, then which health drink is worth of trying?

When popular brands fail in most of the category, trying brands with natural ingredients, without chemicals are worth trying. In my list of 11 popular health drinks, Manna health mix is the best in the lot. This product contains only natural ingredients like-
1) mixture of cereals and millets- red rice, wheat, corn, jowar, bajra, ragi, and barley
2) mixture of pulses – Bengal gram and green gram
3) sago
4) mixture of nuts – groundnut, cashew nut, almonds and,
5) finally naturally flavored using cardamom
Trying such a brand is still fine. Although you can easily make such a combination at home.

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Is it essential to give “health drink” for every child?

The concept of health drink came to support the nutritional requirement of a growing child. Please note just to “support” the nutritional need. Even in ad its mentioned that health drinks fulfill “a part” of the daily requirement. Therefore, if the family afford to provide wholesome meal 4 times a day no child require health drink. Natural foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, balanced home-cooked meal is the best source of all sort of nutrients for not only the child but for everybody.

If not commercial health drink then what?


Water is the best health drink ever which helps to absorb all your food.
Milk comes after water. Yes, these days milk allergy has become almost like an epidemic because of grain-fed, hormone pumped animals. Remember milk is not bad. It is still the most balanced food on earth. All you need is to find a good source of milk. Focus on the quality of milk. Instead of wasting money on commercial “health drink” spend the amount getting good quality milk.
• If you feel 4 times of wholesome meal is not enough for your child, think of giving a home-made health drink. No. It’s not a long recipe. Just follow the outline to make a variety of health drink within 2 minutes for your child.

Table 7: Home made health drink ideas

Health drink Base Ingredient To add
Pulse based health
drink
Water / Milk –
1 glass
1 tbs of Sattu Powder and 1 tsp of sugar/
jaggery
Nut based health
drink
Milk-1 glass Roasted and ground groundnut/ cashewnut
– 1tsp and 1 tsp of sugar/jaggery
Mixed Health
drink
Milk -1 glass Healthy mix – Roasted and ground –
1. nuts (groundnut/ cashewnut) and
2. seeds (pumpkin/ melon/sesame) and
3. cardamom Mix all together and store in a
glass jar
Mix 1 tbs of healthy mix with 1 tsp of sugar/
jaggery

Besides these, give your child coconut water, fresh lemon water, fresh seasonal fruit, sometimes fresh fruit juice with pulp instead of carbonated drinks (artificial soft drinks/cola/ orange/mango drinks) or artificial fruit juices.

Read more– how to make your kitchen smart.

Top 10 healthy snacks ideas

Top 9 Healthy summer drink ideas

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How to ensure optimum nutrition of a child?

Have trust in yourself, your kitchen and your common sense. Eating good food is NOT enough until food nutrients are getting absorbed and assimilate in the body.

Focus on keeping your child’s gut healthy

The gut is the portion of your intestine which absorbs most of the nutrients. Eating excess refined sugar damage the gut health to a large extent. Keep them away from sugary and salty junk. This includes all -carbonated drinks, frozen desserts, commercial bakery items, candies, fast foods, chips, fries, etc – basically everything that is packaged and processed.

Let them play outside

No matter how much of protein (milk, pulse, fish, egg, chicken, etc) you are feeding to your child daily, it will be no help if physical activity is less or close to none. Encourage your child to play outside for 2-3 hrs every day. It is essential for the assimilation of proteins and vitamins.

Also Read – Tips to control overeating

Tips to make eating out healthy yet fun

Bottom Line

Most of the popular health drink in India is loaded with sugar, chemicals, and preservatives. So do not fall for their catchy advertisements. Check the back of the glossy packet to get the real information. Practice reading the label first. The best health drink in India for a growing child is the one which uses whole grains, almost no sugar and chemicals in their product. They may not have some fancy claim or packaging. But the products are worth its price.

Instead of depending on others, prepare health drinks at home. It is easy and does not take much time. Eating a variety of homemade foods and adequate outdoor activity ensure nutrient supply and assimilation of those nutrients which are enough for your child’s growth and development.

Unfortunately, leading a healthy lifestyle seems to be most difficult these days. There are various ways to get misguided and complicate the lifestyle. Basic home-cooked food 4 times a day along with seasonal fresh fruits, nuts, etc is almost impossible for us. Your child follows you, imbibe all your habits – good or bad silently. Therefore if you want your child to stay healthy, start fixing your lifestyle first. Good food, no processed and packaged foods, adequate sleep, activity, and exercise was never an option in human life. Re-adopt them. You child will be fine.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful research and article…

    1. Thanks a lot….keep supporting us for more such research based article…

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