Think Juice is Healthy? Think Again.

Health & Wellness on 10.21.11
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Let's face it, kids love juice.

It is sweet, comes in a variety of flavors and colors, and is often poured for them upon request.  But the truth is that if your kids eat fruit every day, they simply do not need juice. Yes, juice does provide vitamin C, but misses out on other important nutrients contained in eating the fruit itself.

One medium apple contains 4 grams of fiber, where one cup of apple juice contains less than 1 gram. Also, kids tend to get their daily doses of vitamin C from other foods like broccoli or blueberries, so vitamin C is not usually a major concern.

So, if I can stand on my nutritional soapbox for a moment, I will explain my issue with juice.

Compared with fruit, juice has way more calories. One cup of orange juice, for example, contains 112 calories where one medium orange has 62 calories. As a mama and a registered dietitian, I have seen the exorbitant amounts of juice that children drink per day. This juice consumption leads to hundreds of extra calories per day and with the growing childhood obesity epidemic there is little room for this kind of indulgence. Also, because juice does not contain fiber it does not fill children's bellies like a piece of fruit would. This can also lead to your kid's refusal to drink other necessary beverages that are not sweet, like water and milk. 

Add tooth decay into the mix and you can begin to see why I have a dislike of the sweet beverage.

What Parents Need to Know About Fruit Juice

How Much is Too Much

So, if you have decided to allow your kids to drink some juice (and yes, I do myself), make sure you know how much is appropriate and stick to it.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no juice for children under the age of one. From ages 1-6, no more than 4-6 ounces per day. Beware parents -- sippy cups are often as big as 16 ounces, so watch your measurements. If you need to, fill the remainder of the cup with water. For ages 7 to 18, 8-12 ounces of juice is recommended.  Parent Tip: Do not allow your child to carry juice around all day. Give it to your kids at the table with a planned meal or snack. (Check out my article on why planned snacks are as important as meals.)

What Kind of Juice to Look For

Make sure you are serving your kids 100% fruit juice. This can be found on the nutrition food label. 100% juice means that the juice was squeezed from actual fruit or from a fruit concentrate with added vitamin C, antioxidants, and other nutrients.

Beware of "Juice" Drinks

These "juice" blends or cocktails are advertised as juice, but often contain very little fruit juice and have loads of added sugar. Some may even be fortified with vitamin C, D, or Calcium, but make sure to check the labels for first ingredients like high fructose corn syrup or water. (Check out Sarah's article on other surprising foods that contain HFCS.) They may call themselves juice drinks, but in reality they have more in common with a can of soda.

Be Strategic When and Where Juice is Served

Again, only serve juice from a cup (never in a bottle!) at the table (or highchair) with a meal or snack. Sipping on juice all day long will deter kids from eating and drinking at regular mealtimes.  Also, the natural sugars found in juice will remain on teeth all day and can lead to tooth decay and cavities. Use water as the go-to beverage for thirst.

I'm not saying never give your kids juice. Like fostering a sensible attitude to sweets, ensuring a healthy diet is more about moderation, knowledge and a diverse range of options than it is banning this or that foodstuff. But still, it is worth remembering that fruit juice is not the guilt-free treat that some parents think it is.

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