Fruit Juice Overview
Children will perform better at school and in sports if they are well hydrated (see our 'HYDRATION' article which includes recommended fluid intakes for children). Children need water replenishment due to losses in their urine, faeces, sweat (especially in hotter weather) and exhaled breath. Although children get fluids from the food they eat, their main hydration is through the fluids they drink.
The best hydration drinks are water, milk or fresh, made up milkshakes (no added sugar) rather than fruit juice (e.g. Orange Juice) even if it 100% pure unsweetened. These should be encouraged from an early age. Never encourage sugar-laden fizzy drinks except for a very occasional treat. You can usually tell how well hydrated your child is by their urine colour (clearer is better, dark is worrying).
Avoid 'Fruit Drinks', 'Fruit Beverages' or 'Fruit Cocktails' as they are not 100% pure unsweetened juice and contain either refined added sugar or artificial sweeteners and flavours. Always look for the words 'Unsweetened Fruit Juice'.
Children are the biggest juice consumers in the United States and it has been shown that children who drink more fruit juice tend to drink less milk which is NOT a good swap. Also lots of Fruit Juice can have potential detrimental effects:
- Never give fruit juice to a child under 1 year old. Up to 6 months old especially, breast milk is the no.1 choice if possible and if not then an approved infant formula is the only other recommended alternative.
- Fruit juice is acidic and attacks teeth (especially if drunk from a bottle : always give your child a cup instead) causing tooth decay / dental caries. In the UK, according to the British Dental Association, 50% of children aged 4-18 suffer from tooth decay which is unprecedented.
- Sugar is calorific and too much may cause BMI increases or obesity.
- Excessive fruit juice can potentially cause diarrhoea or abdominal distention
Ideally fruit juice is best obtained from the fresh fruits themselves e.g. fresh oranges. Cut them up and give them to your child. Whole ones tend to be off-putting. The fibre from the fresh fruit is much better than having fruit juice.
A small, daily regular amount of unsweetened 100% fruit juice (100-150 ml / 1 cup approx) is absolutely fine and contributes towards your child's "Five a Day" fruit and vegetables. This can be a quick and easy way to get some vitamins and minerals into your child's body. But stick to guidelines and don't overdo it. Note: Two cups can be taken for children aged 7 and over but these DO NOT count as two portions on the "Five a Day" fruit and veg (your child is only allowed to count one). See our 'FIVE A DAY' article here. Don't ever choose sweetened fruit juices, especially those sweetened with sugar!
Note that only pasteurized fruit juice is safe for infants, children, and adolescents otherwise they could get seriously ill due to E-Coli / Salmonella (see our 'FOOD SAFETY' article here).
Ideally, fruit juice should be consumed during a meal which helps to minimise tooth decay and reduce the sugar hit. This also can potentially help iron absorption from the food (iron is an essential nutrient).
There is some good news! Fruit juices are packed with vitamins, especially Vitamin C. If your child has a lack of Vitamin C they may bruise easily or suffer from dry skin or nose-bleeds. Encourage fresh fruits and vegetables but, as long as you stick to the guidelines above, some fruit juice can always help. But don't overdo it!
Kids must stay hydrated. This is critical to their well being. But the best hydration drinks are water, milk or fresh, made up milkshakes (no added sugar) rather than fruit juice. Wherever possible choose fresh fruit over fruit juice for their "5 a day" fruit and vegetable portions although, for over 1's, a cup of 100% unsweetened fruit juice with a meal is perfectly acceptable and in fact, beneficial.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has published this excellent report on fruit juice consumption and comes up with some sensible and solid recommendations regarding this topic.