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Give children whole fruit, not fruit juice, say pediatricians

Whole fruit is full of fiber as well as nutrients.

Children should not be given any fruit juice until they are a year old, and after that they should drink such beverages only sparingly, according to new recommendations issued this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Instead, children should meet their daily fruit requirement by eating whole fruit.

“Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit for infants and children and has no essential role in [the] healthy, balanced diets of children,” the pediatricians stress.

Drinking fruit juice at a too-early age or in high amounts can cause children harm, the doctors also point out. Specifically, it can contribute to diarrhea, poor nutrition and the development of dental caries. It may also raise the risk of obesity.

Unfortunately, children today consume almost half of their daily fruit requirement as juice. There is some good news, however: That proportion has decreased slightly in recent years — possibly because parents are finally getting the message that fruit juice is not the same, nutritiously speaking, as eating whole fruit.

Whole fruit is full of fiber as well as nutrients. It also takes longer to eat, thus helping to limit the amount of calories consumed in a serving.

Based on latest evidence

The AAP’s new recommendations, which were published in the journal Pediatrics, represent the first change in its fruit-juice advice since 2001. At that time, the academy advised parents to limit fruit juice — but only to babies less than 6 months old. It was also more generous with how much juice could be given to older children.

The current recommendations are the result of a review of the latest research on the topic. The pediatricians also took into account growing concerns about childhood obesity. Some (but not all) research has suggested a link between obesity and the consumption of fruit juice, which has a high sugar content.

Here are the new fruit-juice limits that the AAP recommends for different age groups of children. (Children would, ideally, consume even less than these amounts.)

  • Babies under 12 months: no fruit juice
  • Toddlers aged 1 to 3 years: no more than 4 ounces a day
  • Children aged 4 to 6 years: no more than 6 ounces a day
  • Children aged 7 to 18: no more than 8 ounces a day

For children aged 1 through 18, those amounts represent about half of their daily requirements for fresh fruit.

Other advice

The AAP also recommends that toddlers not be given juice in “sippy cups” or any other container that allows them to drink the juice easily throughout the day. Nor should they be given juice at bedtime.

“After 1 year of age, fruit juice may be used as part of a meal or snack,” explain the AAP pediatricians, “[but] it should not be sipped throughout the day or used as a means to calm an upset child.”

Parents should also be extremely cautious about giving their children unpasteurized juice, which may contain E. coli, salmonella, cryptosporidium and other disease-causing pathogens that can be particularly harmful to children. Packaged fruit juices must have a warning on their labels that the product may contain harmful bacteria, but that’s not true of juices that are freshly squeezed and sold by the glass at farmers’ markets, apple orchards and other places. 

FMI: You can read the AAP’s entire recommendations at the Pediatrics website.

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