Fruit juice will always and forever be a favorite among most young children. Heck, I won’t say no to a glass of orange juice in the morning! But should we really be offering fruit juice to our kids? Isn’t fruit juice unhealthy and just full of sugar?
The truth is, juice isn’t the toxic elixir diet culture has made it out to be. It actually provides a source of vitamin C, potassium, and energy and helps hydrate our growing kids! Now, I’m not saying that you should be chugging fruit juice all day, but offering juice to your kids on occasion is a good option for a variety of reasons. As a dietitian and mom of three, I will break down all you need to know about fruit juice for kids:
Types of fruit juice
It can feel overwhelming browsing fruit juice options at the grocery store, wondering what juice is the “best” option. When it comes down to it, the type of juice you buy for your family is 100% up to you.
Here is a quick summary of the fruit juices available on the market to help you make an informed decision:
100% pure fruit juice:
You will be able to tell if a fruit juice is just pure juice (with no additives) by reading the label. It will say “100% pure juice” in clear lettering on the front. You can also look at the ingredient list on the nutrition fact label. It should only have the type of fruit juice(s) listed without any added sugars, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, or colors.
Since there are no preservatives or additional sugars added to this type of juice, it will have a shorter shelf life.
Fruit juice drinks and blends:
These fruit drinks often contain a certain percentage of real fruit juice, with added sugars, sweeteners, flavors or preservatives. These juices often have a milder taste than pure fruit juice.
Fruit Juice concentrate:
Both 100% fruit juice or fruit juice drinks can be made from concentrate or available for purchase in concentrated form. The majority of the water has been evaporated out of the juice. This increases storage life and reduces cost.
Cold-pressed fruit juice:
This is 100% pure fruit juice that has been extracted using a hydraulic press with no heat used in the juicing processes. Lack of heat applied helps to retain more heat-sensitive nutrients in the juice such as enzymes, vitamin A, vitamin C and B vitamins. However cold pressed juices are usually still pasteurized which can involve heat application.
Does fruit juice have health benefits?
Fruit juice (especially 100% pure fruit juice) provides a variety of micronutrients, while also being a source of hydration! Some health benefits include:
- Source of vitamin C: Important for immune function, collagen production and wound healing.
- Source of potassium: Important for electrolyte balance, kidney function, as well as muscle and nerve function.
- Source of antioxidants: Help to protect cells against damage from harmful molecules called free radicals. They reduce inflammation and the risk of chronic disease.
- A quick accessible source of energy: This is especially helpful for fueling during periods of high-intensity sport or activity.
- Can help move digestion along: Fruit juices often contain a naturally occurring sugar alcohol called sorbitol. Sorbitol can create an osmotic effect in the gut, pulling water into the colon. This can be helpful in moving your bowels along, especially if you or your child is struggling with constipation. However, drinking too much fruit juice high in sorbitol (such as prune, pear, peach, and plum) can cause intestinal distress and diarrhea.
Is it OK to serve my kids juice?
Yes! I especially recommend parents offer fruit juice randomly and regularly, especially if your child seems to be “obsessed” with it. Sounds counterintuitive, right? While restricting fruit juice from your child may be done with good intentions, it can actually make it more appealing and exciting, placing it on a pedestal above other drink options (like milk and water). The “forbidden fruit effect” is then triggered, making fruit juice more desirable simply because it is prohibited or extremely limited in its accessibility.
I do however recommend offering fruit juice as a part of a meal or snack. Drinking fruit juice between meals is actually a common cause of “picky eating” in children. This is because fruit juice will fill your kids’ tummy, dampening their appetite for solid foods when mealtime rolls around. Offer water alongside, and in-between meals and snacks as your child’s main source of hydration.
Remember the long game
Your child’s relationship with food, in the long run, is much more important than how many cups of fruit juice wellness culture deems “healthy”. Remember, your role in feeding is to decide what, when and where food is offered. You get to decide how often you offer fruit juice in a way that feels intuitive for your family, with the goal of establishing a food-neutral, versus a restrictive one.
Fun hydrating ideas for kids, using fruit juice:
- Bubbly Fruit water: Fruit juice mixed with soda water
- Juicy cubes: Ice cubes made from fruit juice. You can use fun-shaped silicone molds to make them! Add ice shapes to plain water, and as the ice melts the juice will flavor the water.
- Fruit juice popsicles: Mix together different types of fruit juice to make custom flavors!
- Fruit juice slushies: Blend fruit juice and ice to make a homemade refreshing slushie!
- Homemade hydration drink: Read more about hydration drinks for kids, and how to make a quick and cheap alternative at home using fruit juice.
My recommendations for fruit juice
I recommend 100% pure fruit juice (from concentrate or not) or cold pressed fruit juice to provide the most nutrient density with the least number of additional ingredients. Cold pressed fruit juice, however, is a less common and more expensive option to come by. Always read the ingredient list on fruit juice packaging if you are wanting to avoid any extra added ingredients. We currently have insufficient evidence on how artificial sweeteners impact kids, so I recommend limiting products that contain them. Also note that fruit drinks containing artificial sweeteners will fill your child’s tummy without providing much energy or nutrition. Another thing to consider is taste! Offer the fruit juice that brings joy to your kiddos, and you!