Fruit Juice: To Drink or Not To Drink

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I am so happy that the American Academy of Pediatrics just issued new guidelines limiting the recommended amount of 100% fruit juice that should be given to children. This change is the first since 2001 and recommends no fruit juice in a child’s first year of life. In fact, this is what I have been recommending to my patients.

Lauren Adler_02R WEB72

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Juice offers no nutritional benefits early in life and can actually take the place of what babies need: breast milk (or formula), protein, fat and minerals like calcium. This may come as a surprise to many parents who thought that 100% fruit juice was healthy for babies.

Despite the fact that the Dietary Guidelines of America suggest that 100% fruit juice can be substituted for one half of the recommended daily serving of fruit, my recommendation as a pediatrician has always been that juice is not equivalent to whole fruit and it does not belong in a baby’s diet.

The new guidelines limit the amount of juice recommended for older children as well as for babies, now recommending four ounces for children ages 1-3, six ounces for children 4-6 and only 8 ounces (down from 12) for children 6-18.

Fruit juice: contains no fiber and is not much better than soda

According to a recent New York Times article on this subject, “four ounces of apple juice has no fiber, 60 calories and 13 grams of sugar. By comparison, a half cup of apple slices has 1.5 grams of fiber, 30 calories and 5.5 grams of sugar.” Big difference. Whole fruit offers fiber, calories and sugar, while fruit juice has no fiber, only sugar and empty calories. The two are not nutritionally equivalent.

And according to the NY Times article, store-bought juice is hardly any better for children than soda. Disturbingly, four ounces of lemon-lime soda contains 12.6 grams of sugar and 46 calories, both only slightly less than apple juice. Similarly, four ounces of Coke has 50 calories, 13.5 grams of sugar and no fiber. (Fiber is important because it not only helps with digestion, it helps people of any age feel fuller so they do not over consume.)

100% fruit juice is also bad for the teeth

Not only is fruit juice not nutritious for babies and children, its high levels of sugar can promote tooth decay. The dentist in chief at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Man Wai Ng, told the NY Times that “100% fruit juice should be offered only on special occasions, especially for kids who are at high-risk for tooth decay.”

Limiting our children’s fruit juice is an important part of parenting

My opinion still remains that juice is not healthy and, except on rare occasions, should not be given to children. The healthiest beverages for your child to drink are water and milk (cow’s milk or otherwise). Water is important for adequate hydration and milk offers fat and calcium, both important for growing children.

It is much easier to overindulge in fruit juice than whole fruit, especially when that juice is packaged in fun boxes and pouches with superheroes and princesses on them. With the food and beverage market becoming increasingly saturated with more and more unhealthy, “fun” products being marketed directly to our children, it is more important than ever for us as parents and pediatricians to ensure that our children are getting the best nutrition possible. Not giving babies fruit juice during their first year and limiting it from then on is a good start.

Questions about your child and fruit juice? Come see us, we’re here to help

If you’d like more information about how much fruit juice is recommended for your child’s particular stage of development, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics. One of our pediatricians will meet with you, give you information and advice, and answer all your questions. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics

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About the Author: ML Ball