Fruit is one of the world’s healthiest foods, so isn’t fruit juice just as healthy? Not exactly – and parents should be careful not to give children too much of it.
“Though it’s OK to give most children juice in moderation, children will benefit more nutritionally from eating the whole fruit versus its juice,” says Dr. Brintha Vasagar, a family medicine physician with Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Holmestown Road. “Instead of fruit juice, we generally encourage parents to offer water or milk.”
Fruit juices tends to elevate blood sugar levels faster than whole fruits and can contribute to tooth decay, especially if children are allowed to drink it in sippy cups through the day.
Juices often have also lost some of their nutritional benefits as a result of the juicing process. Skin and other nutritional components of the fruit may be removed before a fruit is juiced.
Plus, children typically won’t feel as full after drinking a glass of juice as they would if they ate the fruit, which can contribute to weight gain. An eight-ounce glass of orange juice contains double the calories of a single whole orange, even though it may not feel like it.
“Think about the difference in sensation between eating a whole orange and drinking a glass of orange juice,” Dr. Vasagar says. “You are going to feel much fuller eating the fruit itself.”
Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its recommendation for juice among babies. Previously, the academy advised against giving juice to babies younger than 6 months of age.
Now, the organization recommends that parents avoid giving babies juice for the entire first year of life, stating that “fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit to children under age 1 and should not be included in their diet.”
Like Dr. Vasagar, the academy says that juice –fresh or reconstituted – can be healthy as part of a well-balanced diet, but encourages moderation.
The type of juice a kid drinks matters. The AAP says that children of all ages should avoid unpasteurized juice. And read the label: Beverages that are labeled fruit drinks rather than 100 percent juice may be entirely artificial and have no nutritional benefits.
“For the most part, juices should be seen as a treat and not an everyday drink,” Dr. Vasagar says. “My general philosophy on nutrition is to eat whole, unprocessed foods.”