Orange and other Fruit Juice: Is it good or bad for kids?

Orange and other Fruit Juice: Is it good or bad for kids?

I love orange juice.  When I was a kid I loved orange juice.  In fact, when I was a kid I drank so much orange juice I actually got a rash from drinking all that acidic juice!  But of course anything consumed in super high quantities will be bad for you. So, what is the truth about orange juice? Is it good or bad for kids?

Many juices sold today are not actually 100% juice, but you have to look closely to figure that out.

Many juices sold today are not actually 100% juice, but you have to look closely to figure that out.

The first issue with most commercially produced fruit juices is that they are really high in sugar.  You might be surprised to see that a lot of “healthy” juices on your grocery store shelf are not 100% juice.  Squeezed in among claims of being “high in vitamin C” and having “no preservatives,” “no artificial colors,” and/or “no artificial flavors” is the admission, “35% fruit juice” or “10% fruit juice.”  Many popular kids drink pouches and juice boxes sport these kinds of labels, as do many refrigerated and shelf-stable bottled juices.

Take the popular drink “Sunny Delight” for instance.  Sunny D’s ingredients?

Water, High Fructose, Corn Syrup and 2% or Less of Each of the Following: Concentrated Juices (Orange, Tangerine, Apple, Lime, Grapefruit). Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Beta-Carotene, Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Natural Flavors, Food Starch-Modified, Canola Oil, Cellulose Gum, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Sodium Benzoate To Protect Flavor, Yellow #5, Yellow #6

Seriously? 2% or less of a mix of fruit juices?

Not only that, but juices like this one are high in sugar.  High fructose and corn syrup are just another way of saying “sugar” (albeit an even less healthy version!).  So, the first thing to ask is whether your kids are actually drinking real juice? Or are they drinking sugar-water with a bit of juice added in?

Now, suppose you’re buying 100% juice. That’s a good start, but it may not be enough.  You see, 100% fruit juice can also be sweetened – with concentrate.  Concentrate is when water is removed from the original fruit juice, leaving a kind of sweet syrup behind.  Sure, that syrup is still 100% fruit juice, but it is also really high in sugar, and can be used to increase the sweet flavor of fruit juice.

Even if you buy juice that is 100% juice and contains the term “not from concentrate” that juice is still going to be high in sugars.  That’s because fruit is high in sugars!  Now, there are some fundamental differences between fruit and fruit juice.  Fruit contains fiber, which makes you feel full and which is an essential part of your diet.  It also comes in solid form, which takes longer to consume.  Think about it: it takes 21 oranges to produce approximately 2 liters of orange juice.  How long would it take you to drink (even in a leisurely fashion) 2 liters of orange juice versus how long it would take you to eat 21 oranges?  Juice, by virtue of being a liquid, is easier to consume than solids.  You can also pack in more liquids in your diet than you can solids.  Think about the last time you ate a really big meal.  When you were so full you didn’t want to eat another mouthful, you were still able to stomach the thought of drinking a glass of water to wash it all down.

Kids today are consuming more sugars than ever before; indeed, more calories than ever before.  Do your kids really need to be consuming extra calories in their drinks – even if those calories are in the form of “healthier” fruit sugar?

The fact is, the more sugar in your child’s diet, the higher their risk of obesity.  Sugar (even fruit sugar) in their diet will also increase the incidence of cavities.  Unlike a piece of fruit, which is generally consumed all at once, kids frequently sip at juice over the course of a day, increasing the amount of time their teeth spend in contact with sugars.  Furthermore, when kids fill up on juice, they have less space to fill up on more nutritious foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables.  Of course, a little bit of juice now and then is fine, even healthy, for kids, at least according to a study published in June 2008 in the “Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.”

What is the right amount of juice to consume? Well, kids do not need to consume any juice to be healthy, although certain juices can be a good way to get additional vitamins into your child.  Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Children should only consume 100% fruit/vegetable juice (not from concentrate)
  • Children under 6 months of age should not consume any juice.
  • Children 6 months to 6 years of age should consume 4-6 ounces of juice at most.
  • Children 7 to 12 years old should consume 8-12 ounces of juice at most.

One last point to ponder is that nutritional value of juice is lower than the fruit itself is.  The longer the juice is outside of its original container (which is the fruit itself!), the lower its nutritional content.  If you really want optimum nutritional value in your juice, you’ll have to juice it yourself!

Which sounds like a great post for tomorrow… Let’s talk about juicing!