Play Every Day Update: Why the sugar in 100% fruit juice adds up
If it comes from fruit, it must be healthy, right? When eating fresh, raw fruit, then yes, absolutely.
But not when drinking 100 percent fruit juice, which lacks much of the fiber and nutrients that makes fruit healthy for us in the first place:
Fruit juice “is just as full of calories as the whole food but filters out lots of the fiber and micro-nutrients and delivers all the sugar and calories in liquid form that does not make you feel full,” said Dr. Susan Beesley, a pediatrician with the Anchorage Pediatric Group. “Also, juice is horrible for teeth. Because of its sugar content, it causes lots of cavities, especially if it is used as a drink that is available to children constantly throughout the day or night.”
Too much 100 percent fruit juice, along with other sugary drinks, contributes to obesity and tooth decay in Alaska — where one out of three Alaska children is overweight or obese and cavity rates are high.
People “think that since fruit is healthy, fruit juice must also be healthy,” said Beesley. Plus, “kids tend to like juice (because it is so sugary), so parents think they are giving something healthy to their kids that they also like.”
Some juices contain nearly as much sugar as soda, with as much as 16 teaspoons in a 20-ounce portion, or nearly twice the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended maximum of eight teaspoons of added sugar a day for the average adult. Plus, Beesley added, kids who get in a routine of consuming sugary juices can carry that habit over their lifetimes by drinking other sugary drinks, like soda, sports drinks or energy drinks.
Studies show that consuming added sugars can lead to unhealthy weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. That’s why pediatricians recommend water as the default drink for kids, with fat-free and low-fat milk as nutritional alternatives.
“I do not think kids should drink any juice,” said Beesley, “but if they must, it should be given in a small volume with a meal.” The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 4 to 6 ounces (1/2 to ¾ cup) of 100% fruit juice per day for young children. Beesley also discourages serving sugar-free juices or alternatives “because I think they will get kids used to drinking sweet beverages.”
(Photo courtesy Dr. Susan Beesley)
Other ways to limit juice consumption include making it available only on special occasions, like when traveling by plane or when going out to dinner. Diluting juice with water helps reduce sugar intake, but it still means saturating teeth in sugar, said Beesley.
By not buying and serving juice at home and limiting consumption elsewhere, parents help kids establish good habits for drinking water and maintaining a healthy weight. Healthy kids should drink two cups of fat-free or low fat milk each day and lots of water, nothing more.
Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to increase awareness about childhood obesity in Alaska, give tips for raising healthy kids in Alaska, and encourage children and their families to be physically active and choose healthy drinks. For more information, visit www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.