When Is Too Much Fruit Juice Unhealthy for Your Child?

Boy (8-10) at table, drinking orange juice
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Fruit juice seems like it's a staple in many kids' diets—and that's a concern, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Citing the role juice is playing in childhood obesity and tooth decay, the organization actually pushed the "start time" for juice from age 6 months to 1 year when they released updated recommendations in 2017. Avoiding or at least limiting juice, however, is still preferred.

In reality, there are a lot of other more important dangers to your child's health, but drinking too much fruit juice can be a problem. In addition to the role juice can play in weight gain and cavities, it can also contribute to diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems, such as excessive gas, bloating, and abdominal pain.

Recommended Daily Amounts for Fruit Juice

The AAP still prefers that kids age 1 and older drink non-fat/low-fat milk and water, but provides the following recommendations should you choose to give your child juice:

  • Babies under 1 year of age should not be given juice, although many pediatricians do recommend small amounts of juice for children that are constipated.
  • Children age 1 to 3 should have no more than 4 ounces daily.
  • Limit children ages 4 to 6 to 4 to 6 ounces a day.
  • Kids 7 to 18 should have no more than 8 ounces daily.
  • Instead of juice, children should be encouraged to eat whole fruits.
  • If you give your child juice, it should be 100 percent pasteurized fruit juice and not fruit drinks.

The Juice 'Problem'

As mentioned, juice can contribute to weight gain, cavities, and some gastrointestinal issues. One of the other main problems with drinking too much juice is that it is filling and will decrease your child's appetite for other more nutritious foods.

While your child will still get a lot of calories, they will mostly be from sugars or carbohydrates and lack sufficient protein, which can contribute to a poorly balanced diet.

Also, fruit juices generally don't have a lot of vitamins and nutrients, although they do have vitamin C, and some are fortified with calcium. Also, if your child is drinking a lot of juice, then he probably isn't drinking much milk, which is a good source of calcium and other vitamins and nutrients

Juice Smarts

Waiting to introduce your child to juice is one way to prevent related problems, as those who have it early (and perhaps often) may become accustomed to it—and ask for it often.

When you do give your child juice, opt for a regular cup and not a bottle or sippy cup/water bottle. The latter options make it all too easy to drink juice quickly and constantly. Not only does this increase consumption, which means added calories, but it can cause teeth to constantly have sugar sitting on them, which can cause oral health concerns. To prevent your child's cups from becoming security objects, restrict their use to meals, or when you offer milk and snacks. (We know the appeal of "no spill" cups can be hard for parents to let go of, too.)

It's also wise to avoid letting your child have juice before bedtime.

Does Your Child Need to Curb His Juice Consumption?

In general, if you child is eating a well-balanced diet, including some fresh fruits and vegetables, is eating dairy products and drinking 16 to 24 ounces a day, and doesn't have problems with cavities or being overweight, then he likely doesn't have a "juice problem," even if you are exceeding the AAP limits.

If your child is exceeding the AAP limits and is a picky eater, has a poorly balanced diet, cavities, diarrhea, chronic abdominal pain, or if he is overweight, then you should consider taking steps to limit his intake of juice.

Are There Any Benefits to Fruit Juice?

After all of this talk about why juice can be bad, you may wonder if there is any reason to give your child juice at all. Many kids don't like eating fruit, so offering fruit juice is one way to get your child his daily recommended servings which, per MyPlate, are: 1 cup/day (2 to 3 years old); 1 to 1 1/2 cups per day (4 to 18 years old). A six-ounce glass of 100 percent fruit juice can substitute for (but is not really equal to) one serving of fruit, but such substitutions should be limited and restricted to older kids.

Still, it is important to remember that the recommended servings of fruit juice are actually limits. Your child does not need to drink any fruit juice, especially if he is reaching the above MyPlate targets.

Source:

Heyman, Melvin B. Abrams, Steven A. Fruit Juice in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: Current Recommendations. Pediatrics. 2017; 139 (6).

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