By: Rachel Neifeld, RD, CDN
There are almost entire grocery store aisles dedicated to different types of juices marketed to both children and adults with many of their labels touting their various abilities: claiming to be superior to water, meeting daily fruit serving requirements, containing essential vitamins and boasting they’re made with 100% fruit juice and no added sugar. Don’t be fooled by these health claims, which though true regarding some of what they do contain, fail to mention the many nutrients they leave out when compared to whole fruit and the additional calories they can easily tack on to one’s diet leading to unwanted weight gain.
Even if sugars aren’t added, juice still contains natural fruit sugars which add calories. A 12-ounce bottle of grape soda has 159 calories whereas the same amount of unsweetened grape juice has even more (228 calories). Though unsweetened grape juice is still a better choice than soda because of some of the vitamins and antioxidants it contains (plus the artificial ingredients it leaves out), it should still be consumed in moderation to avoid the excess calorie consumption for little nutritional value when compared to whole fruits.
An important component that makes whole fruit a better choice when striving to meet the daily recommended servings of fruits each day is fiber, a nutrient which slows digestion and promotes a slow and steady sugar release into the bloodstream. Without the fiber of whole fruit, juice’s sugars (though natural) are absorbed in a rapid, less healthy manner, causing blood sugar “spikes.”
Additionally, liquid calories are registered differently by our brains so they do not fill us up the way calories from solid foods do. Despite having consumed calories from a glass of juice, we do not feel full and therefore do not account for those calories in our next meal- leading to consumption of too many calories overall during the day, ultimately resulting in weight gain over time.
Juice consumption exceeding recommended guidelines has become a problem particularly for young children whose small bodies need fewer calories than adults. Filling up on juice can lead to falling short on much-needed nutrients from breast milk and/or formula or for older children, nutrient-dense foods which promote healthy growth and development.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that children less than 1 year of age who consumed no sugary drinks, whether or not they were breastfed, were 70 percent less likely to be obese than those who drank the most sweetened beverages. The study also showed that even if kids did consume sugary beverages later in childhood, those who were breastfed for at least 12 months were still less likely to be obese- likely because breastfeeding may biologically program the child’s metabolism and eating behavior in a way that helps protect against obesity. Whether or not a child is breastfed, this study shows that it is beneficial to steer clear of juice when it comes to young children’s long term health.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants do not consume any juice up until the age of 6 months unless it’s used to relieve constipation. After six months children can consume 4 to 6 ounces per day until 6 years of age. After this, it is recommended children do not consume more than 12 ounces of juice per day. About 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice equals one serving of fruit, though as previously mentioned, juice lacks the fiber and other nutrients of whole fruit.
Water is the preferred form of hydration for adults and children alike, and whole fruits should be consumed on most days to meet the daily recommended fruit intake of 2 cups per day. If you or your child needs a bit of flavor to help meet daily hydration needs, try adding just a splash of 100% juice or squeezing some lemon or lime juice into sparkling water. Even adding a fresh slice of ginger to water adds a zesty flavor making you more inclined to reach for the healthiest source of hydration- 100% calorie free for 0% weight gain (along with a balanced diet!).