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Juice and Your Child's Diet

As a parent, you probably know that soft drinks and soda aren't great beverage choices for children because they are high in calories, low in nutrients, and may contribute to obesity and tooth decay. But you may be surprised to learn that fruit juice and fruit drinks, often considered an integral part of a baby and toddler's diet, aren't great beverage choices either.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition examined the use of fruit juice in the diets of infants, toddlers and children, and adolescents. Fruit juice, defined as 100% juice, is primarily composed of water, but also contains carbohydrates (sugars), small amounts of protein and minerals, and vitamins and calcium. The committee cited several problems with juice consumption, including difficulty absorbing the carbohydrates in juice, which may cause chronic diarrhea, gassiness, bloating, and abdominal pain. In addition, fruit juice does not have the fiber content of whole fruit, and drinking fruit juice can interfere with a child's ability to develop the habit of eating whole fruit. In the report, the committee also noted that children can develop food-borne illness from drinking unpasteurized juices.

In infants, offering juice before solid foods are introduced can cause malnutrition if juice replaces breast milk or formula, which contain significantly more protein, iron, calcium, and fat than juice. In addition, if juice is sipped throughout the day from a bottle or cup, the sugar in the juice can contribute to tooth decay. Because fruit juice is tasty, toddlers often overconsume it, which can result in tooth decay, diarrhea, obesity, or malnutrition. Although teens and older children typically consume less juice, obesity can result when they drink too much in addition to meals and snacks.

What This Means to You: Fruit juice, even 100% fruit juice, should be used sparingly in your child's diet, and whole fruit should be encouraged as a juice alternative. Infants should not drink more than 4 to 6 ounces of juice per day, and juice should never be introduced to infants under 6 months old. Do not serve your child unpasteurized juices. Infants and toddlers should drink juice only from a cup during meals and snacks and not be allowed to sip it all day long.

Source: Pediatrics, May 2001

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