That is a very interesting question and one that I know many parents and even grandparents are wondering about too. I know that when my kids were young, juice was my go to refresher between meals and milk was the only beverage I served at meals. Even then, I made sure it was only 100% fruit juice.
With the advent of so many sugar sweetened beverages and juice not really meaning “juice”, we have shifted our advice about what our kids should be drinking between meals when thirsty which may have swung around to making juice sound like a bad food. Childhood obesity concerns have begun focusing our attention on the calories our kids are drinking throughout the day because many of us would be shocked at the ingredients and calories contained in the juice we provide.
According to the Dietary Guidelines 2010 (they are working on the next version to be released in 2015 with the latest research!), children get more than half of their fruit intake in the form of juice. The danger in that is they may be missing other vital nutrients found in whole fruit such as fiber at the same time they may be overindulging, perhaps inadvertently, on added sugars and calories.
Did you know that while 100% fruit juice can be a healthy part of a child’s diet, many sweetened juice products with minimal juice content, such as juice drinks, punch or cocktails are considered sugar-sweetened beverages rather than fruit juice? Unless we read the label to see the actual % of real juice or the ingredient list to see only real juice listed and not added sugars, we may not realize that what we think is juice is really just empty calories which could contribute to obesity. Many labels may say 100% daily value of vitamin C but that doesn’t mean it is real juice without added sugar and calories.
This is not to say that every child has obesity or should avoid juice, but parents and grandparents should be mindful of what juice product they are buying by reading the label. Limit juice to between meals and offer water as a beverage to satisfy thirst if playing sports or outside games in the heat.
Providing a well-balanced diet including whole fruit that meets your child’s nutritional needs, offering milk at meals and water in-between and ensuring they get plenty of time for physical activity every day will help your child be healthy now and in the future.