Children and Juice

Fruit juice is one of those items that benefits from its association – it’s made from fruit, after all, so what could be the problem?

UW Health clinical nutritionist Alicia Bosscher, RD, says it’s all about the fiber. Or rather, the lack of it.

“We often think juice has a lot of Vitamin C and that’s good for our immune systems,” she says. “But the problem is that you take out the fiber that’s found in whole fruit and what’s left is basically just sugar.”

So much sugar, in fact, that juice rivals many sodas in terms of sugar content. And regardless of whether that sugar is fructose or high fructose corn syrup, the reality is that sugar is sugar.

Due in part to the sugar content, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised its guidelines – while it once recommended waiting until infants were at least 6 months old before giving them juice, now the recommendation is to wait until children are over one year.

There are two reasons why the group recommended the change: tooth cavities and rising rates of obesity. Bosscher adds that juice can actually impair healthy growth because when a baby’s stomach is filled with fruit juice, it means she is getting less human milk or formula, which can actually lead to malnutrition due to lack of important nutrients like fat and protein.

But, what about juice for older kids?

Bosscher says that the guidelines state fruit juice can be a part of a balanced diet for an older child. The key word, she notes, is can.

“The guidelines are realistic and make room for a once-in-a-while treat. But they don’t say juice should be a part of your child’s diet every day,” she says.

Serving Size of Juice

According to the guidelines, a serving size for juice is:

4 ounces per day for children ages 1 to 3 years old

4-6 ounces in a day for children ages 4 to 6 years old

No more than 8 ounces (or 1 cup) for children 7 to 18 years old

Bosscher acknowledges that without the fiber to help you feel full, it can be easy to take in extra calories by drinking more than a serving of juice, which can lead to weight gain. If you decide to give your child juice occasionally, she recommends looking for 100 percent juice. Labeled as such, you will know you are avoiding added sugars.

Changing habits can be hard, as just about everyone knows. If you decide to stop buying juice, Bosscher recommends keeping a bowl of fresh fruit in sight so kids can eat from it when they’d like a snack. That way, kids don’t feel like they’re being deprived and, they get the benefit of the fiber in the whole fruit.