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Fruit Juice: Should the Glass Be Empty?

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Once and for all: is juice good for our kids or not? Pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson sets the record straight.

boy drinking orange juice

"The inconvenient truth," says a recent Los Angeles Times article, "is that 100% fruit juice poses the same obesity-related health risks as Coke, Pepsi, and other widely vilified beverages." 

Higher sweetened beverage intake, such as fruit juices, at age 5 years was linked to more body fat during the following 10 years, Dr. Laura Fiorito, at The Pennsylvania State University in University Park, found.

Is it really as bad as all that? Should we not even be packing a juice box in our kids' lunch?! We asked pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson whether fruit juice should really be nixed from our kids' diet. Here's what she has to say:

First, know what you're dealing with:

  • "100% juice" is squeezed from the fruit; it includes vitamins and minerals, but misses the fiber.
  • "Juice drinks" take 100% juice, dilute them with water, and then add sweeteners like sugar or sugar alternatives; much of the nutritional value is lost, and what's left is often a high-calorie drink.
  • Labels are famously unclear, making claims about "health" and "nature" while really containing a product that is unhealthful: "cocktails," "punches," "drinks," and "beverages" all mean that sugar has been added.

Is there anything redeeming -- even healthy -- about juice?

  • Fruit purées are as good as taking a bite of the whole fruit.
  • Though 100% juices have more calories than the actual fruit and lack fiber, they still provide essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Recent data has shown that 100% fruit juice consumption is not related to children becoming overweight.

Here's the bottom line:

As with most things in life, the whole is better for you than the parts. If you are choosing between a piece of fresh fruit and a glass of juice, opt for the actual fruit. It has more fiber and fewer calories.

But when it comes to fruit drinks, here's where you want to make a real effort to find the healthiest alternative.

  • Look for "100% juice" on the label.
  • Avoid "beverages," "cocktails," "drinks," and "punches."
  • If your child is willing, choose water or milk over any kind of juice.
  • Perhaps most important, don't pass off dessert drinks as healthy -- smoothies may provide a good load of vitamins and minerals, but they are drenched in ice cream or frozen yogurt or syrup sweeteners, making them treats rather than daily staples of health.

next: Girls Can Be Bad Sports, Too
7 comments so far | Post a comment now
Karen Bannan November 9, 2009, 12:09 PM

Excellent article. I will let my children drink watered-down juice. If we are at a birthday party that has juice boxes, I will let them have those, too. (I don’t want to make a big deal in front of other people, although I will request water if it’s anything other than juice. No soda or fake juice allowed.)

They like water, too, and milk, so that’s what they are most likely to drink at home.

Andi November 10, 2009, 7:17 AM

We also gave our daughter half and half juice/water, mostly for flavor. Then we talked to the dentist who said the acids in juice can contribute to cavities. From then on, we stick to water and milk. Daughter’s ok with it; she’s not ok with cavities.

Scarlett November 10, 2009, 9:38 AM

Juice in limitation is great, kids need the fruits. Just get the 100% juice and set limits.

Sarah Wally, MS RD (Juice Products Assoc.) November 18, 2009, 10:33 AM

As a registered dietitian who understands the science behind the headlines, I was troubled to read Karen Kaplan’s article (“It’s time fruit juice loses it’s wholesome image, come experts say,” November 8) that outwardly questions the healthfulness of 100% fruit juice.

The claims made in the article that fruit juice poses unique obesity-related health risks are absolutely without merit. In fact, members of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee - the nutrition experts who will lay the foundation for U.S. federal food and nutrition policy - recently presented the results of a comprehensive literature review, reporting that the preponderance of evidence does not support a link between 100% fruit juice and weight status.

One hundred percent fruit juices are an important source of valuable nutrients. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee noted that levels of vitamin C, folate and potassium are often higher in certain 100% fruit juices than in their whole fruit counterparts. In addition, studies suggest that appropriate consumption of 100% juice is linked to an overall healthier eating pattern, including reduced intake of total dietary fat, saturated fat and added sugars. For many Americans drinking 100% fruit juice is an important strategy to help meet current targets for daily fruit intake

The article’s false claims will only further confuse a public that is already far too distrustful of (and disheartened by) conflicting nutrition advice from those who have not invested the time to review the full body of scientific research on 100% juice.

KateCake December 16, 2009, 9:00 PM

My homemade smoothies contain nothing but plain yogurt, fruit, maybe a little fruit juice or a drizzle of honey for sweetness! My only “additives” are spinach, fiber powder, ground flaxseed, and the like. My kids love them! I just think there should be a distinction made between commercial smoothies and those made at home by a conscientiousness parent.

My kids do drink juice, maybe a glass a day, and it’s ALWAYS diluted by 1/3 to 1/2 water. We all have grown to prefer it that way!

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