Fruit juice is a staple of elementary school lunches, but pediatricians are now warning parents to cut back on packing their kids the sweet stuff.
In a recent report, the American Academy of Pediatrics condemns the consumption of fruit juice because of its “potential detrimental effects.” The unassuming sugar content of fruit juice leads to increased calorie consumption as well as tooth decay. Although the report listed a smattering of benefits associated with some fruit juices, it largely categorized them as problematic, suggesting that fruit juice offers “no nutritional benefits for infants younger than one year … and has no essential role in healthy balanced diets of children.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued the following recommendations regarding fruit juice consumption in toddlers and adolescents:
“The intake of juice should be limited to, at most, four ounces/day in toddlers one through three years of age, and four to six ounces/day for children four through six years of age. For children seven to 18 years of age, juice intake should be limited to 8 ounces or 1 cup of the recommended 2 to 2.5 cups of fruit servings per day.”
Mass-produced fruit juice is far from nutritionally comparable to whole fruit or even fresh-squeezed juice. Most of the fruit juice sold in the United States is required to go through a heat-treatment process known as pasteurization in order to eliminate harmful bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. This process is a necessary precaution — especially for infants and children, who have less developed immune systems and are more susceptible to disease — because unpasteurized fruit juice may become contaminated from any bacteria remaining on the outside or inside of the fruit. But along with killing bacteria and other microbes, the brief heat also decimates the fruit’s natural phytonutrient content.
What is left after the pasteurization (and removal of the pulp, which many consumers find unpleasant) is a lightly colored sugar water. For example, 12 ounces of Mott’s 100% Original Apple Juice contains 160 calories and 42 grams of sugar; that’s more than a can of Coca-Cola!
A quick glance at the nutrition label shows that a glass of apple juice contains over 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, but this too is misleading. Fruit juices are packed with added vitamins to boost the appearance of their nutritional profile (and, in the case of orange juice, injected with “flavor packs” to deliver a more fruity taste). Therefore, the best beverage options for kids are water, milk, and unsweetened iced tea, but parents can also experiment by making their own homemade juices or smoothie blends.