Fruit juice might seem like a healthy drink option when compared with sugary sodas. But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting how much juice your child drinks and not giving them any at all if your baby is under age 1. Too much fruit juice can contribute to health problems for your child. Water and milk are the healthiest drinks for children.
Benefits of Fruit Juice
High in nutrients. Fruit juice contains many of the same vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals as whole fruit. Phytochemicals are health-promoting plant compounds that can help fight cancer and other diseases. In some studies, drinking pure fruit juice in moderation has been linked to lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease.
Readily available. Fruit juice may be a cost-effective method to help the dietary guidelines for fruit consumption. Many children don't eat enough fruit. Children should get between 1 and 2 cups of fruit daily depending on their age. Combining fruit juice and whole fruit may make it easier for children to get enough fruit in their diet. Fruit juice may also provide access to a larger variety of fruits year round.
Drawbacks of Fruit Juice
Lack of fiber. The main thing missing from fruit juice is the beneficial fiber in the whole fruit. Children in the U.S. eat less than half of the recommended daily fruit servings. Half of the fruit servings they do consume come from juice. Additionally, 9 out of 10 children in the U.S. don't get enough fiber.
Fiber from fruit may be particularly beneficial because of its prebiotic effects. Children who eat more whole fruit have more good bacteria in their guts. This good bacteria is associated with better immune system function. Fiber from fruit is also associated with fewer bad bacteria and protection from diarrhea from bacterial sources. Additional benefits of fruit fiber may include:
- Lower likelihood of constipation
- Reduced risk of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease
- Reduced risk of obesity
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Lower cholesterol
- Reduced risk of high blood pressure
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
- Reduced risk of colon cancer
- Less severe asthma attacks
- Reduced risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Better emotional control
- Better relationship-building skills
- Reduced aggressive behaviors
- Reduced risk of depression
- Lower levels of inflammation
High in sugar. Fruit juice is a concentrated source of sugar for children. For example, 1/2 cup of apple juice has 13 grams of sugar and 60 calories. Your child can get the same serving of fruit from 1/2 cup of apple slices, which only has 30 calories, 5.5 grams of sugar, and 1.5 grams of fiber.
Fruit juice contains about as much sugar per serving as soda. Too much sugar, even from fruit juice, has been associated with:
- Obesity, especially excess fat around the waist
- Liver problems
- High blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Increased risk of stroke
Preference for sweets. Drinking juice may cause your child to prefer sweet flavors over plain water. This may result in juice taking the place of healthier options like water or milk. One study of 75 children who were 3 to 5 years old showed that they ate more vegetables when they were served with water than when they were served with sweet drinks.
This effect held up regardless of how picky the children were about food. This finding suggests that what your child drinks may set their taste expectations for their meal.
Guidelines for Giving Your Child Fruit Juice
If you do decide to give your child fruit juice, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Don't give juice to your child if they are under the age of 1.
- Limit juice to no more than 4 ounces daily for children ages 1 to 3.
- Limit juice to no more than 4 to 6 ounces daily for children ages 4 to 6.
- Limit juice to no more than 8 ounces daily for children ages 7 to 18.
- Don't give juice in a bottle or sippy cup because it encourages drinking too much.
- Give with a meal in 1 serving and not carried in the cup throughout the day. That can lead to dental decay.
- Don't give your child juice at bedtime because it can cause cavities.
- Don't give your child unpasteurized juice because it may contain disease-causing microbes.
- Don't give your child juice if they are gaining weight too slowly or too quickly.
- Encourage your child to eat whole fruit over drinking fruit juice.