Let’s talk about juice! As parents you may be receiving a variety of mixed messages when it comes to this controversial topic. In fact, some pediatricians are suggesting that fruits juices (even 100% juice) be eliminated from your child’s diet completely! As a Clinical Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian (RD), I frequently meet with parents that are shocked and confused by this recommendation. In fact, I’ve become quite accustomed to hearing statements like… “isn’t fruit juice a natural, healthy way for Jessica to get her vitamins and minerals?”…….. “when I was kid I remember always having a bottle or sippy cup of apple juice in my hand!”……or “I thought orange juice was a great way for Eric to get his vitamin C in the morning.”
Here’s the deal. TRUE – 100% fruit juice is all natural and packed full of vitamins and minerals, but it is also packed full of sugar and excess calories that your kids don’t need. In fact, your children can get all of the vitamins and minerals they need from a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables that does not include juice. It is also very easy to over do it with juice. Juice is sweet and tasty, and will therefore likely be one of your child’s favorite things to consume. Juice is also readily offered by parents because it is often viewed as “nutritious” and “natural”, and parents rarely set limits on its consumption. All together, these factors make “OVER-JUICING” our children very easy.
In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thought that over-juicing was enough of a danger to issue a policy statement entitled ‘The Use and Misuse of Fruit Juice in Pediatrics’1. Here the AAP clearly states and presents evidence that drinking too much juice can contribute to obesity, the development of cavities (dental caries), diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal problems, such as excessive gas, bloating and abdominal pain in children.
We are all painstakingly aware that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic in our country, and unfortunately our children are at the forefront of the problem. Overwhelmingly, doctors and researchers have been pointing the finger at excessive consumption of fruit juice (and other sugary drinks like soda) as one of the main reasons why our kids are overweight. It makes sense that if your kids are drinking too much juice, they are consuming too much concentrated sugar (natural sugar is still sugar!) and too many calories that will naturally lead to weight gain.
Keep in mind that the concentrated sugar in juice can also damage the enamel of your child’s teeth, leading to tooth decay. This is particularly a problem when juice is offered in a bottle instead of a cup. In addition, the concentrated sugar content of juice can be hard to handle in children whose little tummies and intestines cannot always quickly process a large load of sugar. These problems may include diarrhea, excessive gas, bloating and abdominal pain when juice is over-consumed and/or not diluted with water.
Over-juicing may also lead to the consumption of a diet that is not very nutritious. REMEMBER - when children fill up on juice, there is little room for other more nutritious foods. While your child will be getting a lot of calories, they will mostly be from sugars (simple carbohydrates), and not from fat, protein or complex carbohydrates. This leads to a poorly balanced diet and the potential for malnutrition and anemia. Also, if your child is drinking a lot of juice, they are likely not drinking enough milk, which is an important source of calcium, protein and other important vitamins and minerals in your child’s diet. Without further ado, here is the simple answer you are looking for……..JUICE IN MODERATION. You must keep your kids in check as to how much juice they are consuming throughout the day and make it clear to them as they grow and start making their own food choices, that juice consumption should be kept to a minimum. In general, you want to look for 100% fruit juice with no added sugar, and you want to dilute the juice with water (especially for babies and toddlers). This dilution should be 50/50 – ½ juice and ½ water. See the guidelines below for the specifics on how to best include fruit juice in your child’s diet.
FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES WHEN PROVIDING JUICE TO YOUR CHILDREN:
- It is generally recommended that children under 6 months of age NOT be given juice. Offering juice before solid foods are introduced could run the risk of having juice replace breast milk or formula in the diet.
- Only give juice to infants that can drink from a cup. Juice should NEVER be offered in a bottle, as the nipple of the bottle can rest too long in the mouth and cause increased problems with tooth decay.
- Always offer 100% fruit juice with no added sugar that is pasteurized. “Fruit drinks” and “fruit sodas” should NOT be offered.
- Dilute juice with equal parts water to prevent gastrointestinal problems and prevent over-consumption of calories and sugar.
- Limit fruit juice intake according to the guidelines below: • 6-12 months: 3-4 fluid oz. per day • 1-6 years: 4-6 fluid oz. per day • Children > 7 years: 8-12 fluid oz. per day
- Fruit juice should be provided as part of a meal or snack. It should NOT be sipped throughout the day.
- Instead of juice, infants and children should be encouraged to consume whole fruits (mashed or pureed for infants). These foods will also provide them with fiber as well as the vitamins and minerals that they need without the concentrated sugar.
As a nutritionist, parents often ask me “do I have to give my child juice at all?”. The answer is NO… you can choose to keep fruit juice out of your child’s diet altogether (at least while you have the control!). If your children are thirsty, it is fine to give them water, but be careful not to overdo it with the water either because those small tummies can also easily fill up with water leaving little room for healthy foods at mealtime.
If you do decide to provide your children with fruit juice, please keep the guidelines above in mind, as it is clear that the problem at hand is not fruit juice itself, but TOO MUCH fruit juice. Gone are the days when toddlers should be running around with an all access pass to a sippy cup of apple juice. We must do our best to avoid over-juicing our kids!
Keep in mind that there are many other important areas to think about when it comes to your child and good nutrition. As you continue to visit BabyMeTV you will discover more about your baby, about nutrition and about how to do your very best to raise healthy kids that will grow into healthy adults.
1AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: The Use and Misuse of Fruit Juice in Pediatrics. PEDIATRICS Vol. 107 No. 5 May 2001, pp. 1210-1213.
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