Should Your Kids Be Drinking Fruit Juice?

You’re probably hearing it more and more these days: Don’t drink fruit juice—it’s loaded with sugar! But is fruit juice really that bad for your health? Well, it’s not as black and white as critics may suggest, especially when it comes to kids’ consumption.

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its May 2017 policy statement, Fruit Juice in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: CurrentRecommendations, which said that fruit juice and fruit drinks offer no nutritional benefits for kids under one year of age. Previously, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended four to six ounces daily for kids under one.

As for current suggestions regarding kids over the age of one, the policy states that only 100 percent fresh fruit juice (made purely from the juice of natural fruits, without any added sugars, preservatives, or additives) should be consumed, and only if it’s part of a balanced diet.

But not everyone agrees with the AAP’s recommendations.

According to Taylor C. Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN, kids under the age of one should be consuming 100 percent fruit juice. Wallace co-wrote a July 2017 review (Satisfying American’s Fruit Gap: Summary of an Expert Roundtable on the Role of 100% Fruit Juice) that was published in the Journal of Food Science, which stated that 100 percent fruit juice:

  • Offers essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Does not compromise fiber intake.
  • Contains health-supporting antioxidants.
  • Does not lead to weight gain when consumed in accordance to the AAP’s prior recommendations for children under one year—four to six ounces daily.

Other research backs up this claim: According to Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition,
the consumption of 100 percent fruit juice can provide beneficial nutrients without contributing to pediatric obesity.

Wallace believes 100 percent fruit juice should be consumed by kids of all ages: “Kids lack nutrients that fruit juice provides, like potassium, vitamin C, and magnesium,” Wallace says. For many kids, especially those in lower-income families, 100 percent fruit juice helps to comprise a healthy diet, according Wallace.

For parents worried about sugar intake, the polyphenols (antioxidants) found in 100 percent fruit juice may help to block up to 40 percent of the sugar from being absorbed, Wallace says.

So, what, technically, is a fruit juice? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates that a product must contain 100 percent fruit juice in order to be labeled “fruit juice.” Other juices, like those made from concentrate or those containing less than 100 percent fruit juice, must be labeled a “drink,” “beverage,” or “cocktail.”

Although national guidelines suggest kids get one to 1.5 cups and adults get two cups of fruit per day, dietary patterns in the U.S. reflect a deficit (up to 80 percent of the country fall below fruit goals), according to the Satisfying American’s Fruit Gap: Summary of an Expert Roundtable on the Role of 100% Fruit Juice. Hence why Wallace believes fruit juice offers a valuable and affordable way to meet those dietary needs for everyone.

The benefits of 100 percent fruit juice are plenty: The Journal of Food Science study found that children who consume moderate amounts of 100 percent fruit juice are less likely to consume soda, and that the antioxidants within it may have health-promoting effects, especially as it relates to cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. Adults and kids who drink 100 percent fruit juice usually meet their daily fruit needs, too, on top of having an improved overall diet and nutrient intake.

The bottom line

According to American Heart Association, kids should be getting less than 25 grams (that’s six teaspoons) of added sugars (like those found in fruit drinks that don’t come from 100 percent fruit juice) daily. Adult women should aim for less than 25 grams and adult men should aim for less than 36 grams per day.

Read drink and food labels, and reach for 100 percent fruit juice over other juice products. Even better? Consume fresh fruit over drinking fruit juice when possible.