Some people consider fruit juice to be a healthy, natural source of vitamins. Others view it as a sugary beverage that contributes to childhood obesity. Which is correct? The jury is still out.
Historically, pediatricians recommended fruit juice because of its Vitamin C content and as a good source of water for young children. Although water is the main ingredient of fruit juice, its next most common nutrient is sugar (including sucrose, fructose, glucose and sorbitol).
UCSF (The Children's Hospital at the University of California) Children's Hospital calls fruit juice "wasted calories." They recommend that parents eliminate fruit juices and other sugary drinks for their children and have them drink water or milk.
Meme Roth, Founder and President of National Action Against Obesity, agrees that children older than age two should drink predominantly water or skim milk. She believes that 100 percent fruit juice is okay on occasion. Fruit juice should be viewed as a treat, Ms. Roth says, and recommends that parents dilute the juice with water to limit sugar consumption. Ms. Roth also notes that children who drink fruit juice are likely to become lifelong drinkers of sweetened beverages.
Where does The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) weigh in on the subject?
The AAP says there is no nutritional reason to give fruit juice to a child younger than six months old, and that breast milk or formula provides infants with all the nutrition they need. Giving fruit juice to infants could make them less likely to drink breast milk or formula, the AAP states, adding that children should be given juice only when they are old enough to drink from a cup, which is at about the age of six months.
The AAP advises that fruit juice not be given alone and that it should be part of a meal or snack. When consumed on its own, fruit juice can lead to tooth decay, the AAP says.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that children aged 2-3 eat one cup of fruit per day and that children 4-8 years old eat one to one and a half cups of fruit per day. A cup of 100 percent fruit juice can be counted as a serving of fruit, says the USDA, but that juice is not a nutritional equal of fruit because juice doesn't contain fiber. That's why the USDA says to go easy on juices.
Remember, 100 percent fruit juice isn't the same as a "fruit drink," which may contain little juice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that only products that are 100 percent fruit juice be labeled as fruit juice. Beverages having less than 100 percent fruit juice must be labeled "drink" or "beverage" or "cocktail," and must list the percentage that is fruit juice. Added sweeteners, flavors and fortifiers must be listed on the label, according to FDA regulations.
MyPyramid.gov, United States Department of Agriculture, http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/index.html
The Use and Misuse of Fruit Juice in Pediatrics, Pediatrics, Vol. 107 No. 5 May 2001, pp. 1210-1213, The American Academy of Pediatrics. Note: A statement of reaffirmation for this policy was published on February 1, 2007. http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/
News brief: Children consume too many calories from sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juices, The American Academy of Pediatrics, June 2008, http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/june08studies.htm
Sweet drinks and obesity, UCSF Children's Hospital, http://www.ucsfchildrenshospital.org/education/
MeMe Roth, President and Founder of National Action Against Obesity discusses the link between fruit juice and obesity in children, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q0Hd2J_e70
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