Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Juice, or no juice: Daily serving doesn't cause weight gain in kids

Posted April 4
Updated April 5

Orange juice

Kids can drink a single serving of 100 percent juice without fears of weight gain, new research says.

According to the study, reported by Reuters, researchers found a slight weight gain for kids ages 1 to 6, who drank a six to eight-ounce serving of juice, with no added sugar. Kids ages 7 to 18 didn't appear to gain any weight because of a daily serving of juice.

“This finding was a little bit surprising,” said lead study author Dr. Brandon Auerbach, a researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, in the Reuters story. “Our team had thought that drinking one serving a day of 100 percent fruit juice would be linked to a small but clinically important amount of weight gain.”

But, Dr. Adam Ottley and Dr. Jill Wright with UNC Pediatrics at Garner, said, regardless of the study, juice shouldn't turn into the go-to drink for kids.

"We’re not too surprised [by the study]," they tell me. "Those kind of differences are really hard to prove scientifically. ... Weight gain is an important measure of metabolism, but there are other reasons to be concerned about juice intake in youth."

How much juice should your kids be drinking? I checked in with Ottley and Wright for some direction. Here's a Q&A:

Go Ask Mom: As we consider healthy drinks for our kids, what should we keep in mind about juices?

Ottley and Wright: We tend to tell parents that, in the spectrum of snack choices, we categorize juice as something that is a lot closer to soda than it is to fruit.

We’ve grown to understand more about the health dangers of soda, so that comparison will sometimes surprise parents. It is important to remember that “no added sugar” does not mean “low sugar." Juice also lacks many of the nutrients that make the actual fruit itself a much healthier snack option. The juicing process typically removes the skin and pulp from whole fruit. The fiber present in whole fruit helps reduce spikes in the body’s absorption of glucose, improving what is often referred to as the glycemic index of a food. Fiber also helps maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract.

Drinks such as Gatorade are often referred to and marketed as “sport” drinks and, because we associate sports and health, parents can get the impression that such drinks are good for their children. While we understand that a small amount of sugar is important in the process of rehydration, it really isn’t required or recommended unless a child or adolescent is participating in more than one hour of significant physical activity. Otherwise Gatorade, like juice and soda, is just a lot of unhealthy sugar.

GAM: Weight gain isn't the only concern with fruit juice. What are other reasons to limit juice intake?

Ottley and Wright: This is a very important point – weight gain can’t be our only concern.

Two individuals can have the same weight, but very different metabolic and cardiovascular health. When we are counseling our patients who are obese, we try to take the focus off of weight or BMI and talk more about creating healthy habits.

We are starting to understand that healthy living is more than just a numbers game – more than simply energy in and energy out. Healthy living requires that we look at the quality of what we are putting in our bodies - and even the context. Evidence shows, and most people’s experience confirms, that there is a difference between regular homemade family meals shared at a table and fast food consumed in front of a television. Juice is often easy convenient energy, and our bodies process and store it that way.

Sugar consumption through juice is also detrimental to dental health. This is especially true for toddlers who are inclined to consume juice through a sippy cup over the course of an entire morning or afternoon. This continually bathes the teeth with sugar and leads to a high rate of dental caries. These can be painful for children, who may then require anesthesia for dental repair or extraction. It’s just not worth it!

GAM: So, whole fruit is still better?

Ottley and Wright: Yes, whole fruit is still better. As we mentioned above, one of the biggest differences between whole fruit and juice is the fiber content. There are many other macro and micro nutrients that are also lost in the juicing process.

GAM: When should a baby get their first tastes of juice?

Ottley and Wright: Juice shouldn’t be given before six months of age, but that doesn’t mean it has to be given after that. Parents should help their children establish good milk and water drinking habits, and then make juice a rare treat. It is not uncommon for us to hear, “my Johnny just won’t drink water,” and we wonder in those cases if juice has been offered too early and too frequently. Juice can train children to prefer sweet drinks.

GAM: What are the best guidelines for juice intake and kids?

Ottley and Wright: We recommend juice as an “almost none” beverage. It should be an infrequent treat. The AAP recommends less than 4 to 6 ounces of juice a day for children 1 to 6 years of age. They also stress not allowing children to carry a cup or box of juice throughout the day. The AAP recommends limiting juice to 8 to 12 ounces per day for children 7 to 18 years of age.

The study’s authors point out that 100 percent juice might be an affordable option for families trying to give their children necessary vitamins and minerals, but can’t afford whole fruits or vegetables. We understand this perspective, but we think it points more to the need for us to address those social issues that make healthy foods unaffordable for those who are at highest risk of chronic health problems.

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