Kids love their juice, and parents, thinking they are providing nutrients from fruit and pleasing their child at the same time, usually feel good about giving it to them. Unfortunately, not only is juice not a nutritional necessity, but too much can be bad for kids' health.
The rising rate of childhood obesity and concerns over the cavities juices can cause have prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to toughen its stance on fruit juice, particularly for very young children, in the hopes that parents will do the same.
“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,” said one of the authors of the new policy, Melvin B. Heyman, a pediatric gastroenterologist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “Small amounts in moderation are fine for older kids, but are absolutely unnecessary for children under 1.”
Juice drinking can actually mean some children fail to thrive because juice blunts their appetite for more nutritious foods and displaces the calories and nutrients they need to grow properly.
Bottles or sippy cups filled with juice should be avoided because they allow kids to easily sip on juice throughout the day, exposing their teeth to sugar and therefore, cavities. Giving juice at bedtime is discouraged as well.
Whole fruit is not the issue; it's just juice. Juice is not equivalent to a serving of whole fruit because it lacks fiber. It’s more akin to pure sugar. For example, one-half cup of sliced apples has about 25 calories, a little over one gram of fiber and five grams of sugar. One-half cup of apple juice has twice as many calories, no fiber and 12 grams of sugar. In fact, fruit juice is a lot like soda with its 45 calories and 12 grams of sugar in four ounces.
Preschoolers between the ages of four and six can have as much as ¾ cup of fruit juice a day, but once kids reach the age of seven, one cup of juice is the limit. It can occasionally fill in for one of their recommended 2 to 2 ½ servings of fruit a day.
Excessive amounts of fruit juice can lead to two extremes in childhood development. Juice drinking can actually mean some children fail to thrive because juice blunts their appetite for more nutritious foods and displaces the calories and nutrients they need to grow properly. Other children will continue to eat well, and the juice becomes extra calories that can contribute to overweight and obesity.
The AAP also discourages fruit juice for the management of diarrhea or the treatment of dehydration. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about these issues.
The policy statement is published in Pediatrics.