Lots of parents are looking for ways to help their children eat more fruit as part of a balanced diet. Fruit juice manufacturers and marketing teams have spent a lot of time and money to send out messages to convince parents that fruit juice is a good source of vitamins and is a healthy alternative to eating whole fruit. But is it true?
Fruit juice or fruit, what is best for my children?
More than 17 years ago major pediatric organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), wrote recommendations against serving young children fruit juice. Their goal was to dissuade parents from putting fruit juice, including 100% fruit juice, in their baby’s and small children’s bottles and sippy cups. Their recommendation to parents was to serve water or milk rather than fruit juice. Nearly 20 years later, global pediatric groups continue to recommend water or milk and to avoid fruit juice. Why? Fruit juice is not fruit.
Some differences between fruit juice and a whole piece you should know
Fruit juice is full of calories, carbohydrates and causes dental caries – even 100% fruit juice. Whole fruit, in its natural state, binds the natural sugars with fiber to slow digestion and limit blood sugar spikes. Additionally, the fiber in fruit fills up the stomach and leads to feelings of fullness that reduces the amount of fruit that can be eaten at one sitting. In contrast, fruit juice has all the fiber removed and leaves only the natural sugars of the fruit that are quickly absorbed into the blood and causes an increase in blood sugar. Additionally, fruit juice passes quickly from the stomach and does not fill it, which means that children can consume more calories in the form of juice than they could if they were eating whole fruit.
To understand what this means, here is an example. A typical 8-ounce (250ml) glass of 100% orange juice has about 2.5 times the amount of natural sugar as a whole orange. But that is not where the differences end, look at this comparison:
|100% orange juice, typical 8-oz. (250ml) serving||1 whole orange, medium size|
|Calories||112 calories||45 calories|
|Sugar||20,8 grams||9 grams|
|Fiber||0,1 grams||2,3 grams|
As you can see, fruit juice provides more calories, more natural sugars, and less fiber than a piece of whole fruit. This difference between juice and fruit is not limited to only orange juice. It applies to all fruit versus fruit juice comparisons. This is what apple juice looks like compared to a whole apple:
|100% apple juice, typical 8-oz. (250ml) serving||1whole apple, medium size|
|Calories||120 calories||72 calories|
|Sugar||27,2 grams||14,3 grams|
|Fiber||0,3 grams||3,3 grams|
It does not matter what fruit juice you choose, whole fruit is always better than juice. Several studies have shown that excess fruit juice consumption, even 100% fruit juice, is associated with tooth decay, obesity and short stature in children.
What beverages can we give them?
So what beverages should parents choose? Here are clear recommendations to support a healthy diet that encourages the consumption of whole fruits rather than fruit juice:
- Infants (0-12 months) – Breast milk or formula, exclusively, for the first 6 months of life. From 6 months-12 months, parents should still offer ample amounts of breast milk or formula along with starting solid foods. Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit to infants less than 12 months. Around 6 months, a cup of water can be offered as baby learns to drink from a sippy cup. These recommendations support the appropriate intake of protein, fat and minerals necessary for proper growth and development during the first year of life.
- Children 1-3 years – Parents can offer a maximum of 4 ounces (125ml) of 100% fruit juice per day. Children only need milk and water to complement a balanced diet to meet their daily energy needs and support healthy growth and development.
- Children 4-6 years – Parents can offer a maximum of 4-6 ounces (125-185ml) of 100% fruit juice per day. Milk and water are the only beverages necessary to complement a balanced diet to meet the energy needs and support healthy growth and development during this stage.
- Children 7-18 years – Parents can offer a maximum of 8 ounces (250ml) of 100% fruit juice per day. Milk and water are the only beverages necessary to complement a balanced diet to meet the energy needs and support healthy growth and development during this stage.
The bottom line is that children should be served whole, fresh fruit rather than fruit juice to prevent tooth decay, prevent obesity, and support optimal growth and development. The information cited in this article have focused on 100% fruit juice but the information also applies to fruit juices that are not 100% juice or juice combined with other beverages such as milk, tea, or soda.
How do you offer fruit to your child, juice or natural? Do not hesitate to share your experience and thoughts in the comment section below.
Dennison, B.A. , et al. (1997). Pediatrics 99(1), pp. 15-22.
Heyman, M.B., & Abrams, S.A. (2017). Fruit juice in infants, children and adolescents: current recommendations. Pediatrics 139(6): e20170967
About the instructor
Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.