Juice or no juice: That is the question

A glass of juice for your little one with a meal might seem like a healthy beverage choice. But is it really?

For years, all varieties of fruit juice — from orange to grape and everything in between — were seen as healthier alternatives to beverages like Coke and sports drinks. But earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with guidelines for juice consumption in kids.

And those guidelines were a shock to the system for many parents and grandparents. Read on for a look at what you should know about juice.

What are the guidelines?

The AAP’s recommendations for juice consumption vary by the age of your child. For kids younger than age 1, the AAP recommends giving them no juice at all, unless it is specifically suggested by your pediatrician.

Between ages 1 and 3, the AAP recommends limiting your child’s intake of juice to no more than 4 ounces per day. For children ages 4 to 6, that limit expands to 4 to 6 ounces per day.

Beginning at age 7, the AAP offers more specialized guidance — children should have no more than 8 ounces of juice per day and the juice should make up no more than 1 cup of a child’s recommended 2 to 2 ½ cups of fruit per day.

Why the change?

Childhood obesity is on the rise. In fact, the percentage of obese children in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970s.

One significant reason behind that increase? The diet our children consume.

The AAP cited both the childhood obesity epidemic and issues with dental health in their reasoning for providing juice intake guidelines.

What’s the problem with juice?

In principle, it would seem healthy to drink the juice of a fruit. But juice often contains large amounts of both natural and added sugars, which can have harmful effects if consumed often.

Children — and adults, too — need fruit as part of a balanced diet. Juice and whole fruit both contain essential nutrients such as vitamins C and E, along with potassium.

However, when you drink juice instead of eating a piece of fruit, you’re losing out on fiber, which is vitally important to health. Fiber helps regulate blood sugar and prevent constipation, among other benefits.

But in the end, it’s the sugar that makes juice a poor alternative to whole fruit. Consider this: A popular brand of grape juice contains 36 grams of sugar per 8 ounces. That’s a lot of sugar! In fact, that’s more sugar than the American Heart Association recommends that any child over the age of 2 should have in an entire day.

What’s the connection to dental health?

When kids are little, they often consume beverages from a bottle or sippy cup. How many times have you seen a kid pretty much holding a sippy cup throughout the day?

If that cup contains sugar-laden juice, a child’s teeth are exposed to sugar and other carbohydrates throughout the day, which can lead to tooth decay and cavities.

So, what’s the better option?

To get the recommended amount of fruit in their diets, children should be given whole and cut-up fruit. The type of fruit isn’t particularly important, so you can experiment with a variety of fruits to see what your child likes.

As far as drink alternatives, the AAP recommends only breastmilk or formula for children younger than age 1, and low-fat or nonfat milk and water for older children.

The occasional glass of juice is OK, as long as you stick with a small amount. Look for varieties of juice that contain no added sugar.

Wondering what your pediatrician has to say about juice? Talk about it at your child’s next appointment. If you need a pediatrician, find one here.