BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
Jeff Cornelius is a local Denver dad to ten year old Levi. Like most parents, he works hard to ensure his child is healthy and happy, which most of us know, is not always an easy feat. Being an entrepreneur, (he opened Globe Hall, among other ventures), he decided to take this goal one step further, by creating Jele, hydration tablets specifically for kids. We jump at any opportunity to meet innovative parents, because when it comes to parenting, the old saying “it takes a village,” couldn’t be more true. So we were delighted at the opportunity to meet Jeff and find out more about his latest invention.
How did this all begin for you Jeff?
In 2018, my son Levi was starting Spring soccer practice. He was 8 at the time, practice was an hour and a half and due to the altitude and dry climate in Denver, he really needed to stay hydrated. Every time I’d send him out to practice with a 32 oz water bottle, he’d drink 4-6 oz. I told him how important staying hydrated was, but he’d say “water tastes boring” or “I’m not that thirsty.” Yet, whenever he was given a store-bought sports drink – the ones with the electric colors and lots of sugar, he’d down it in record time.
In my mad dash to find something healthy that he’d actually drink, the closest thing I could find were drinks labeled “all-natural” or “low-sugar” or “no sugar.” The problem with the all-natural drinks were that they had even more sugar by virtue of their fruit juice base. The low-sugar or no-sugar drinks used artificial sweeteners like aspartame, artificial colors like Red-40 or Yellow-5 and all of them in cursed plastic bottles.
I knew that those drinks weren’t healthy for him and I try to avoid buying plastic as much as possible, so these were simply not options. At the same time, I’d been adding electrolyte supplements to my water for gym workouts, running and tennis. I loved the convenience of simply adding them to my water bottle whenever I needed them. One day it hit me, “why doesn’t something like this exist for kids?” So, down the rabbit-hole I went.
Facts about Kids’ Nutrition
I started cruising the internet for information on kids nutrition, and came across a book by Michael Moss called Salt Sugar Fat. It was published in 2014 and already a New York Times bestseller by the time I found it. It’s a fascinating read, made all the more real to me because I’m a kid of the 80s and grew up loving all of the foods he references in his book. Moss breaks down the scientific research that went into product formulations and how the big food companies claimed they were simply “giving people what they want.” The book goes into great detail explaining how kid’s taste buds differ from adults’ and how the food scientists used that data to formulate products marketed to kids.
The result of all that food frankensteining has given us some very tasty and convenient products, but ones that are loaded with artificial sweeteners, chemical preservatives and empty calories. The real tragedy is that these products condition kids to crave salty, sugary foods and drinks, hardwiring their taste buds for adulthood – exactly the problem I was trying to avoid with my son.
Today, according to the CDC, the average US kid aged 6-18 consumes 3,300 mg of sodium a day, while the recommended daily allowance is only 2,400 mg. The result is that 1 in 6 kids aged 8-17 already has higher-than optimal blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke in adults and studies have shown that diets high in sodium increase the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, which is an increasing problem for US kids today.
As for sugar, according to the American Heart Association, the average American kid consumes 81g of sugar a day – more than 3 times the recommended maximum of 25g per day. 39% of these added sugars come from soft drinks, fruit drinks and sports drinks. That adds up to over 30 gallons of sugar a year from beverages alone. 30 GALLONS of SUGAR a year!
By this time, I had also been talking to a lot of other parents and found they were having the same problem I was. It was clear that there was a huge need for a truly healthy hydration option for kids.
From the beginning, I knew kids would have to love the taste and I knew I wanted to use only natural ingredients. The tablets would need to be slightly sweeter than the electrolyte supplements I was taking, and not have too much sodium, which kids were already getting too much of. They would need to include vitamins and minerals that would be beneficial to all kids – whether they were an 8 year old girl, or a 16 year old boy. They would also need to include the electrolytes, magnesium and potassium, which are key for effective muscle function and recovery.
I enlisted the help of 35 kids in our neighborhood, aged 6-16 to taste-test the prototypes. Each kid filled out a unique form, grading the prototype based on overall taste, sweetness, fruit flavor and color. We included a space for them to share their experience in their words. We would then instruct the lab to make changes based on that feedback and by the time we arrived at our final formulations, we had probably tasted over 25 prototypes across 4 different flavors: Fruit Punch, Lemon-Lime, Strawberry Lemonade and Orange.
Before the formulations were finalized, I had the ingredients reviewed by a Pediatric Dietician, as well as a Food Scientist, to make sure the ingredients would be safe for consumption by kids aged 5-18. Both reviews found the levels of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes to be safe when used as directed.
I started this process simply trying to find a solution to my son’s hydration needs. I soon became convinced that Jele could also help kids understand what they are putting in their bodies and encourage them to take a more active role in their diets. In addition, these tablets would lessen our dependence on single-use plastic bottles. It is a fortunate coincidence that during this development time, Greta Thunberg’s activism on behalf of the environment has made kids hyper-aware of current environmental concerns; including our need to lessen the amount of plastic in our lives.
Jeff, it makes us so happy to see a fellow Denver parent who puts nutrition and the environment first. Something we would love to see much more of when it comes to product development. We can’t wait to see Jele launch, and more kids hydrating from their reusable water bottles. For those of you in the market for healthy hydration for your kiddos, please visit https://getjele.com