According to a recent study, fruit juice--the staple beverage for kids with health-conscious parents--isn't actually an essential part of children's diets after all. Though it may seem shocking, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently found that, although juice has long been recommended as a good source of Vitamin C and other nutrients, it can also have detrimental effects, and that juice plays "no essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children." To understand these findings, we must first examine our own attitudes toward fruit juice, and where these ideas came from.
In general, kids love foods and beverages high in sugar. Their growing bodies are drawn to such foods. But, as most parents know, not all of these foods are good for kids. As fast food and sugar-saturated snacks and beverages, such as soda, became more and more popular in Western countries, parents grew desperate for something healthy to give their kids. Because fruit juice is sweet, it wasn't too hard to convince kids to drink it, and parents naturally began stocking up.
Another reason for the rise of juice? Everyone recommended it. For a long time, juice was said to be just as nutritious as a serving of fruit.
And of course, there was the marketing. Realizing that parents were eager to give their kids something other than soda, many companies created "juice blend" drinks, which contained added sugar and very little actual fruit juice. Still, because they were marketed as being healthy, and often had deceptive pictures of fresh fruit printed on their packaging, many parents fell for the ploy.
Because we have been taught, for so long, to love the idea of fruit juice, it can be shocking to hear that it may actually have some detrimental effects on children's health. According to the AAP, fruit juice can make certain medications less effective, because of the way that flavonoids, found in fruit, work within the body. The Academy therefore recommends that, if a child is ill and on medication, they should avoid fruit juice.
Likewise, if a young child is having diarrhea, it may be due, in part, to their juice consumption. Fruit juice contains carbohydrates which ferment in the colon, and can cause excess gas to build up. In other words, juice can actually cause a whole host of unpleasant digestive issues for young kids.
Unpasteurized juice isn't terribly common, but it does exist on some store shelves. Parents who make their own juice at home or purchase unpasteurized juice from other sources should be aware that the microbial safety of their juice may be compromised. Unpasteurized juice can lead to illness, as explained by the AAP, "Parents need to be informed that unpasteurized juice products may contain pathogens, such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella species, and Cryptosporidium species, which may be harmful to children. These organisms are associated with serious diseases, such as hemolytic-uremic syndrome."
It is also worth noting that dentists have long recommended that very young children, generally those under one year of age, steer clear of fruit juice, due to its impact upon their developing teeth. Fruit juice also tends to be high in calories, which can contribute to weight gain in kids.
Even though juice may not be as healthy as we've long been lead to believe, and even though it can have detrimental effects on certain aspects of children's health, the fact is that it is still a preferable alternative to many beverages on the market today. For example, soda is as popular and as unhealthy as ever, as are "juice blend" drinks which hold little nutritional value. The general takeaway from the recent juice study isn't necessarily that juice is bad. It's just that it isn't necessarily the healthiest beverage available to kids. That beverage is generally water.
The most important thing to remember, according to the AAP, is that fruit juice should not be considered as a replacement for eating raw fruit, as fruit provides fiber which juice lacks, and therefore keeps kids feeling fuller longer. As explained in their research, "Reliance on fruit juice instead of whole fruit to provide the recommended daily intake of fruit does not promote eating behaviors associated with the consumption of whole fruit."
So, in general, kids don't need to stop drinking fruit juice entirely. But they may need to stop drinking so much, especially if they are exhibiting symptoms of abdominal distress, cavities, or if they are taking important medication. And as long as they understand that fruit juice is not a replacement for raw fruit. They will still have to eat their apples and bananas, after all.