The good news is that fruit has a water content of around 90% (variations occur depending on the type of fruit), therefore the main component of fruit juice is water. However, fruit juice is also high in simple sugars, but deficient in complex carbohydrates, protein, fat and fibre (unless the pulp is included) and only has small amounts of minerals and vitamins. Some fruit juices are naturally a good source of vitamin C, others may be fortified with vitamin C or calcium.
Juice drinks are NOT fruit juice and are NOT as nutritious as 100% juice. Most fruit drinks contain 10% or less of pure fruit juice and can include additives such as sweeteners, artificial flavours and supplements such as vitamin C or calcium. Fruit drinks offer little or no nutritional value to a child's diet. Fruit flavoured fizzy drinks generally contain no juice. See ‘soft drinks’ information below for more.
Fruit juice itself is not a problem in moderation but it is very easy for children to drink too much. Below are problems that can occur if your child drinks too much juice:
Drinks high in sugar (including fruit juice) are a major cause of tooth decay. It is recommended infants, toddlers and young children shouldn’t be left with sugary drinks in a bottle or sipper cup as the sugary fluid sits in the mouth and drip onto the teeth (this includes babies with bottles of juice at bedtime). It is the duration that the liquid sits in the mouth that causes the tooth decay.
Fruit juice can cause gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort for many infants due to their immature digestive system. The digestive tract of young babies does not have enough of the necessary dietary enzymes to adequately digest the high level of sugars found in juice. Even as a child's digestive system matures there remains limits on how much juice an individual can be digest at any one time. The key is only offering a little juice and ensuring it is diluted to reduce the sugar content.
The flip side of this is…fruit juice may be recommended for constipation but always seek professional advice first to ensure you are using the best fruit juice and optimal amount.
While a child who drinks a lot of juice will still receive a lot of calories from the sugars (and therefore may gain weight), drinking too much juice can lead to a failure to thrive health wise and malnutrition.
Excessive intake of fruit juice results in an increased consumption of simple ‘empty calories’ and therefore it can lead to obesity problems. For more information see the article on ‘Childhood Obesity’.
An over reliance on one food type (like fruit juice) does not promote healthy eating habits as it doesn’t encourage a healthy varied diet. Whole fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a balanced diet and although fruit juice can contribute it does not provide (and therefore should not replace) the essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins provided by whole fruit and vegetables.
Fruit juice is expensive and although it provides some nutrients it offers no nutritional benefit for babies younger than 12 month as they receive sufficient vitamins and minerals from breast milk (provided maternal intake is adequate) or infant formula. Fruit juice also offers no nutritional benefit over whole fruit for children older than 12 months. Children do not need to drink ANY fruit juice if they eat the recommended daily intake of fruit. Seasonal whole fruit is much cheaper, healthier and cost effective than fruit juice.
Potentially the biggest problem with your child drinking too much fruit juice is the fact that they are less likely to want to drink plain old water!! Water is best…it has may health benefits and it quenches thirst without all the sugar and additives. Understandably, if sugary alternatives are freely available, your child will not accept plain water because they will have developed a taste for a sweetened drink.
If you choose juice keep the following in mind -
These recommendations are maximum amounts to be offered, there is no minimum amount of juice to offer a child as it is not necessary to offer juice at all.
Choose fresh fruit and vegetables to meet the rest of the fruit/vege requirement and to ensure a healthy balanced diet.