For American kids aged two to 18, nearly half of the fruit they consume is in juice form. Now, pediatricians are urging parents to drastically cut back on the amount of juice in their children’s diets — and that children under one year old should have no juice at all.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a statement that spells it out in black and white: “Fruit juice offers no nutritional advantage over whole fruit.” While that juice box might contain vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and antioxidants, the same can be said for whole fruit. But the real fruit also has fiber, which can help to maintain blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as a healthy weight.
Too much juice consumption — especially at bedtime — can also lead to early tooth decay. The American Academy of Pediatrist Dentists recommends that children see a dentist before their first birthday. But now, pediatricians also say that kids should never consume juice before that time.
In the past, the AAP has made this recommendation for children under six months of age. During that time, the Academy says, nothing other than breast milk or formula should be consumed. Substituting juice for milk or formula can actually be harmful, as it keeps infants from getting the fat, protein, and nutrients they need.
But the Academy has expanded that initial recommendation to include the entire first year of life. While pureed and mashed foods are standard during this period, experts recommend that the only liquids babies should consume at this stage are breast milk, formula, or water.
The Academy also recommends that parents restrict juice consumption for children ages one to six. Because fruit juice and fruity drinks taste good, kids are more likely to consume too much. They’re often more convenient, so parents may rely on them to keep toddlers happy and occupied. But experts want parents to give their children whole fruits — which are fairly conveniently packaged already — instead of relying on sugary juices. And if they do give their kids juice, the amount should be limited to four to six ounces per day, depending on the child’s age.
Co-author of the new guidelines, Dr. Melvin B. Heyman, noted in a statement, “Parents may perceive fruit juice as healthy, but it is not a good substitute for fresh fruit and just packs in more sugar and calories. Small amounts in moderation are fine for older kids, but are absolutely unnecessary for children under one.”
Parents also need to be careful about reading the label when buying their juice at the store. They should make certain the juices they purchase are pasteurized, lest a child be exposed to E. coli or Salmonella. And they should also double-check to make sure the product is actually 100% juice. If it says “fruit drink,” “fruit beverage,” or “fruit cocktail” on the bottom, it’s not 100% juice.
“One hundred percent fresh or reconstituted fruit juice can be a healthy part of the diet of children older than one year when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet,” the recommendations say. “Fruit drinks, however, are not nutritionally equivalent to fruit juice.”
While these drinks may seem like healthy options, parents should not be fooled. As the Academy has said, “Fruit juice has no essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children.”
If your kids crave a flavor in their water, adding fresh berries, citrus, or cucumber is a much better option. They’ll get the benefit of the flavor and can eat the fruit after the water’s gone. But for parents who believe orange juice is a better alternative to soda, this report might require them to change their thinking.