Fruit juice is good for kids, isn't it?

Nov 12 2013

Fruit juice is good for kids, isn’t it?

Fruit juice is good for kids, isn’t it?

Fruit juice!  The title definitely sounds like it would be a great thing for children to drink.  However, let’s look at what the ingredients are in a bottle of fruit juice and also let’s hear what the experts have to say about it!

The saying “looks can be deceiving” is definitely applicable to fruit juice.  Although the labels on fruit juice containers claim that they are high in vitamins and minerals, most of them, when tested, prove to be quite deficient.  Why?  Fruit juices are typically pasteurized, which is a process that depletes the nutrient content of food.  Some manufacturers attempt to make up for the deficiency by adding back in synthetic nutrients (i.e. fortified), but these forms are inferior and poorly absorbed by the body.

A second problem with fruit juice is that it has very little real fruit juice at all.  Often, it has a very small percentage of actual fruit juice while the majority of the ingredients are sucrose (table sugar) or high fructose corn syrup (even worse, yikes!).

The biggest problem with fruit juice is the sugar content.  Whether it is real or fake fruit juice, it is very high in sugar.  What is so wrong with sugar, besides that it is food for the germs in the mouth that cause cavities?  Well, it is also the source of a variety of health concerns for children.  According to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), drinking too much juice can contribute to obesity, the development of cavities (dental caries), diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal problems, like excessive gas, bloating and abdominal pain.  The increasing rate of childhood obesity and diabetes may be directly attributed to high daily sugar intake.  It is also a culprit with many behavioral disorders like ADD and ADHD.

The AAP thought that fruit juice was dangerous enough to issue a policy statement about “The Use and Misuse of Fruit Juice in Pediatrics.” The report actually gave daily LIMITS of how much fruit juice kids should drink, and NOT an actual recommendation.  The statements were:

[list line=”no” style=”style1″]

  • when you give your child juice, it should be 100% pasteurized fruit juice and not fruit drinks.
  • infants between 6 and 12 months can drink UP to 4 to 6 oz of juice a day in a CUP and NOT a bottle.
  • infants under 6 months of age SHOULD NOT be given juice, although your Pediatrician may recommend small amounts of juice for constipation.
  •  instead of juice, children should be encouraged to eat whole fruits
  • younger children 1 to 6 years of age should have only 4 to 6 oz of juice a day
  • older children should be limited to 8 to 12 oz of juice a day[/list]

How do you prevent your child from drinking too much juice?  One easy way is to not offer it to them, or at least until they are older.  A funny personal story, I always told my son, “Juice, yuck, blah” as I would make a yucky face and then of course he would laugh.  So, when he went to preschool and they offered juice to him at snack time, he told his teacher, “my mommy says juice, yuck, blah!”

Older infants and toddlers generally drink too much juice when they always have a sippy cup in their hands, or if they are sucking on the cup like they would a bottle.  Sippy cups are convenient and it is nice to prevent messes.  However, if your child always has one in his hands, then he is probably most at risk of getting cavities, since his teeth always have sugar on them.  Did you know that each time after eating or drinking anything with carbohydrates, your mouth stays at a low pH level for 40 minutes and it is during this time when the teeth can lose minerals and eventually become cavitated.  It is that constant sipping of a beverage with sugar and acid that will be a for sure way to increase the chance that your infant/toddler/child will get cavities.

To prevent your child’s cups from becoming a security object for toddlers, it can help to restrict them to meals, when you offer milk and snacks.  It may also help to change to a “sport’s bottle” type cup, which prevent spills but are not as easy to drink out of as a regular sippy cup.

Besides the fact that juice can increase the chance of cavities, it is also filling and will decrease your child’s appetite for more nutritious foods.  While your child will still get a lot of calories, they will mostly be from sugars or carbs, and not from fat or protein, which can lead to a poorly balanced diet.  Also, if your child is drinking a lot of juice, then they probably are not drinking much milk, which is a good source of calcium and other vitamins nutrients.

How do you know if your child is drinking too much juice?  If your child is eating a well balanced diet, including some fresh fruits and veggies, is drinking 16 to 24 oz a day of milk and dairy products and doesn’t have problems with cavities or being overweight, then they likely do not have a juice problem, even if you are exceeding the AAP limits.  However, if your child is exceeding the AAP limits and is a picky eater, has a poorly balanced diet, cavities, diarrhea, chronic abdominal pain or if they are overweight, then you should consider taking steps to limit their intake of juice and also contact their pediatrician.

Phew, that was a lot to write!  So, what is the take home message?  Eating the whole fruit is the best way to enjoy the nutritional benefits of fruit, because there is much less sugar per serving.  AVOID letting your child fall asleep with a bottle or cup of juice, since that is one of the biggest risk factors for getting cavities.

Dr Reid faceshotDr Reid is a Pugh Award distinguished board eligible pediatric dentist. She earned her pediatric specialty training through UCLA’s program at San Diego Rady Children’s Hospital. She has also served our servicemen as a Dental Officer at the Marine Corp Air Station, Miramar in San Diego. She’s also mommy to 5 year old Ezra. To follow her monthly blog posts, follow her at PediatricDentistSanDiego.com.

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