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Can Fruit Juice be Hazardous to your Child’s Health?
There has been a great deal of concern regarding juice as a possible contributor to childhood obesity, causing many physicians and nutritionists to recommend that juice be limited in young children’s diets or possibly eliminated altogether. Data published in the December 2007 issue of the medical journal Pediatrics concludes that moderate consumption of 100 percent juice did not make children fatter. However, while this is good news, research will continue to make sure this is truly accurate information. The new recommendations are that children ages 1 to 6 drink no more than four to five ounces a day and children 7 to 18 drink no more that eight to 12 ounces a day.

It is more likely that children who become obese from drinking “juice” are not actually consuming just 100 percent fruit juice but fruit juice beverages. It is very important that parents understand the difference between them.

A juice beverage (or drink) is not actually fruit juice at all. Beverages usually consist of water as the main ingredient followed by high-fructose corn syrup, a small amount of fruit flavoring (perhaps even an actual juice or juice combination) and artificial coloring.

Beverages can contain very small amounts of juice and still be labeled a fruit beverage, but they are actually just sweetened water with a fruity taste. Frequently, vitamins are added to make them appear healthier; labels are usually marked “100 percent Vitamin C” or another similar statement. However, a beverage cannot claim to be 100 percent juice unless it actually is, and you will never see high-fructose corn syrup in a true juice.

What makes the decision difficult for parents of small children is that they want their children to drink liquids, and many preschoolers don’t like water or fluid milk anymore. For any parent concerned with the increasing cost of food, 100 percent juice can be a costly part of a grocery allowance, especially when the juice beverage makers are telling us that our children will get all their vitamin requirements in a less expensive, non-juice drink.

In reality these drinks aren’t cheaper at all. They lack the micronutrients found in pure fruit products, and the long-term costs of these drinks is high: increased weight, a tendency towards diabetes and dental problems, to name a few. But there’s no reason why 100 percent fruit juice can’t be diluted to make it last longer. In fact, this is usually recommended for infants and young toddlers when introducing juices into the diet. It may not taste as sweet, but it certainly will be easier on the teeth!

Sports drinks are never appropriate for children as a beverage alternative. They are meant for athletes who sweat during sports. These drinks replace sodium and potassium while rehydrating athletes from a loss of fluids. Here again, the main ingredients are water and high fructose corn syrup.

When giving a young child juice, you should always offer it in a cup. That’s because juices and juice drinks in a bottle can cause your child to drink more than the recommended daily amount and are associated with baby-bottle tooth decay, sometimes called bottle mouth.

Babies and toddlers who fall asleep with a bottle are at most risk for this painful, and ugly, damage to their teeth. While sleeping, the liquid pools in the child’s mouth and the sugars damage the enamel. To avoid bottle mouth, don’t put your child to bed with a bottle at all. If you must, the only liquid that should be in a bottle at night and naptime is water.

Once juice has been introduced into your child’s diet, it is recommended that dental care begin on a daily basis. Take care to brush all erupted teeth and wash the gums with a soft cloth where teeth have not yet broken through.

Susan M. Leisner RD, IBCLC, RLC Nutritionist & Lactation Consultant