If you have young children, you probably know how much they love juice. You may think this sweet drink is a healthy alternative to other beverages, but juice is not as healthy as the commercials advertise. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a new advisory recommending that children under 1 year of age should not have any juice, and that toddlers and older children should be limited to small amounts. According to the AAP, juice is not necessary for a young child’s development and can potentially lead to health problems down the road. Why are pediatricians concerned with small children drinking juice? Are there ways to limit juice consumption in your household? Board-certified pediatrician Katherine Williamson, MD, of Mission Hospital, weighs in:
Juice can lead to weight gain and poor nutrition. Drinking juice can lead to children developing a taste for sweets that will be hard to break later on. Dr. Williamson says, “I often see young children in my practice who are hooked on sugary foods. This can lead to obesity or--on the other end of the spectrum--undernourishment. On the one hand, because fruit juice is high in calories per serving, overconsumption can lead to unwanted weight gain. On the other hand, juice does not contain anywhere near the same amount of protein per calorie that fresh fruit does; therefore, children who fill up on juice may be foregoing a vital element of their nutrition." For example, one medium apple contains 0.47 grams of protein and 95 calories. In contrast, one cup of apple juice contains 0.25 grams of protein and 114 calories--around half the protein in the apple.
Choose your juice wisely. Many of the juices on your supermarket shelf contain added sugar, which can settle on your child’s teeth and cause dental cavities. A better alternative is 100-percent fruit juice, but it still contains a high number of calories. Be sure to use the recommended serving size for your child’s age group. The AAP suggests that if you must give your child juice, limit the serving size to 4 ounces a day for children between the ages of 1 and 3. Children between the ages of 4 and 6 years old can drink up to 6 ounces a day.
Treat juice like a snack. Dr. Williamson say, "Think of juice as a short-term beverage--something your child only gets to have occasionally, like a snack, and drinks all at once. Water should be the drink of first choice when kids get thirsty." Dr. Williamson discourages the use of serving juice in sippy cups because your child will probably carry it around and end up drinking juice throughout the day, instead of finishing it in one sitting. “The only drink a child should be walking around with all day is water,” says Dr. Williamson. “If your child is having a juice snack, help him or her drink it from a small cup or juice box, or better yet skip the juice all together and go with whole fruit and water.”
Infants only need to drink breast milk or formula. For children under 1 year of age, Dr. Williamson recommends they drink breast milk or formula exclusively, and as they near a year of age they can drink water as well. Juice is not recommended for children under 1 year of age. Solids can begin between 4 to 6 months of age, and advance per recommendation of your pediatrician. For children age 1 and older, start phasing out the breast milk for cow’s milk as well as water, and specifically for ages 1 to 2 the milk should be whole milk. “Whole milk contains fats that will help your child’s brain develop," says Dr. Williamson. "If your child is overweight however, your pediatrician may recommend the milk should be low-fat." Keep in mind that even milk should not be given excessively. Children over the age of 1 year should have a maximum of 12 ounces of milk daily as excess milk can contribute to excess calorie consumption, dental cavities, and nutritional deficiencies such as iron-deficiency.
Fresh fruit is a better option. When we remove the liquid from the fruit, we are essentially extracting sugar water and throwing away the essential vitamins and minerals in the peel and the flesh. Whole fruit has protein and fiber your child needs to satiate hunger, and it also provides nutrients that decrease the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, which is something you should be thinking about even when your kids are at an early age.
Ultimately, swapping juice for water, milk and fresh fruits will lead your child to develop healthy eating habits which will positively influence their nutrition in the future. Dr. Williamson say, “Eating fruit, instead of drinking it, teaches kids a good habit. What they learn as kids, they will keep doing as they grow and mature into adults.”
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.