From sippy cups to foil pouches, juice has become a ubiquitous part of meals and snacks for many kids. But new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest that parents limit how much juice their children drink — and the smallest kids shouldn’t have any juice at all.
What the guidelines say
The AAP lays out the following rules for juice consumption:
- For infants under 1 year, give them no juice at all, unless indicated by a doctor.
- For toddlers ages 1-3, limit daily intake to a maximum of 4 oz.
- For children ages 4-6, limit daily intake to between 4 and 6 oz.
- For children ages 7 and up, limit daily intake to no more than 8 oz., and juice should make up no more than 1 cup of the recommended 2-2½ cups of fruit per day.
If your tot regularly carries around a cup of juice or consumes several boxes of juice each day, your family might need to make some adjustments. Most juice boxes and pouches contain between 6 and 7 oz. of juice — more than one each day is too much for any kid.
But I thought juice was healthy!
Juice isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but excessive juice consumption can cause a number of problems. Here are five reasons.
1. Fiber is lacking. “When you drink juice, you’re not getting the fiber that’s present in fruit,” says pediatrician Karen Vargo, MD. “Fiber helps regulate blood glucose metabolism. When you drink pure juice, your blood glucose goes way up, because there’s no fiber to counter all the sugar in the juice.”
Fiber is also important for regular bowel movements, Dr. Vargo notes.
2. Babies don’t need the extra sugar. “Juice has no nutritional benefit for babies under 1,” says Dr.Vargo. “They get everything they need from breast milk or formula.”
3. Juice crowds out better choices. For older kids, drinking juice can result in “undernutrition,” when it takes the place of other beverages, such as milk, Dr. Vargo says. This causes kids to miss out on other nutrients — vitamins and minerals they need.
4. Weight problems are a concern. Juice can also cause “overnutrition,” she says. Because it’s so calorie-dense, juice consumption can lead children to have problems with unwanted weight gain and obesity.
5. It damages teeth. Too much juice can also cause tooth decay, even when it’s watered down. This is especially true for kids who carry juice with them and drink it throughout the day — the constant stream of sugary liquid is tough on teeth.
One exception to the no-juice recommendation for babies
Dr. Vargo recommends following the AAP guidelines, but explains the one exception for babies under 1: “The only possible exception is if they’re struggling with constipation,” In that case, babies over 6 months can have up to 4 oz. of juice — but only until you resolve constipation.
Prune or pear juice are the go-to choices for constipation. They contain sorbitol which can increase the frequency of bowel movements.
On the other hand, if your child has diarrhea, avoid juice altogether.
Other advice on your child’s juice consumption
Dr. Vargo also has recommendations on how to serve juice to your children. “If toddlers are going to have juice, they need to consume it at a designated snack time. They sit down, they have their snack and they drink their juice, preferably from a big-kid cup.”
It’s also best for kids to avoid unpasteurized juice — which you might find at a farmers’ market or fruit stand. These types of juice can contain E. coli and salmonella bacteria. But, Dr. Vargo notes, squeezing your own juice at home is fine.
Although the new juice guidelines might require some adjustment, there’s no need to eliminate it entirely. “You can include juice as part of a healthy diet,” says Dr. Vargo, “but you shouldn’t use the juice to replace fresh fruit or vegetables.”