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In my last post, I said that the topic I am most often asked about is snack ideas for toddlers.  I think the topic of whether to give kids juice comes in at a close second.

There is no denying it – kids love juice.  And what’s not to love?  Sweet, fruity goodness in a drinkable form.  Fun, colourful packaging with cartoon characters.  The cute little boxes it comes in.  The companies that make the juice are quick to promote the health benefits of their product – 100% fruit juice (x number of servings of fruit), fortified with vitamins and calcium.

But should babies and toddlers be drinking juice?

I find it difficult to answer this question because it is not black or white.  I decided to do a blog post on the topic so that when I do get the question, I can direct people to the blog.  So today I am going to give you the  juice on juice.

I want to clarify that for the purposes of this post when I am talking about juice I am referring to packaged juice that is 100% fruit juice (whether fresh or from concentrate).  It goes without saying that juice containing added sugar, fructose or artificial sweeteners and other preservatives is not healthy and I recommend that children do not consume it.

What are “they” saying?

Let’s start with the opinion of the American Pediatric Society.  Yes, they have a “policy” on juice consumption for babies and toddlers.  You can find the entire policy here, but here are the highlights of their recommendations:

  • Juice should not be introduced into the diet of infants before 6 months of age. (In fact, they recommend that breast milk or formula is the only nutrient fed to infants at this stage.)
  • Fruit juice offers no nutritional value over whole fruit, and lacks the fibre that whole fruit contains.  Reliance on fruit juice instead of whole fruit to provide the recommended daily intake of fruits does not promote eating behaviors associated with consumption of whole fruits.
  • Excessive juice consumption may be associated with malnutrition (overnutrition and undernutrition).  Fruit juices are easily over consumed by young children because they taste good and because juice is viewed as nutritious, limits on consumption are not usually set by parents. This can contribute to energy imbalance.
  • One hundred percent fruit juice or reconstituted juice can be a healthy part of the diet when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet.
  • Intake of fruit juice should be limited to 4 to 6 oz/d for children 1 to 6 years old. For children 7 to 18 years old, juice intake should be limited to 8 to 12 oz or 2 servings per day.
  • Fruit juice should be used as part of a meal or snack. It should not be sipped throughout the day or used as a means to pacify an unhappy infant or child.

I think the APA brings up some very valid concerns about excessive juice consumption in children, however their policy is a bit contradictory in the sense that it lists so many concerns, yet still states that juice can be a healthy part of the diet .

So now for my opinion.

Juice is heavily marketed as being a “healthy choice”, and while I don’t think it is entirely “unhealthy”, I do think that there are better choices – namely eating whole fruit and drinking good old water!  Here’s why:

  • As the APA states, the fibre in whole fruit is lost when it is juiced.  Kids need fibre in their diet  to help keep bowels regular and to normalize blood sugar levels.  Eating whole fruit is a great way to make sure kids get enough fibre.
  • Most juices are missing the phytonutrients found in the peel and pulp of whole fruit (those powerful cancer-preventing antioxidants that I’m always raving about).
  • Unless juice is consumed right after it is pressed, some of the sensitive nutrients are lost pretty quickly once exposed to air.  In whole fruit, they aren’t released until you start chewing it.
  • Speaking of blood sugar, juice (even 100% fruit juice) elevates blood sugar quite quickly (it is much higher than in whole fruit), and it is a condensed form of calories which can lead to obesity.  And without the fibre to help regulate the absorption of sugar, kids can experience a sugar crash shortly after drinking a lot of juice.
  • The condensed calories in juice means that when kids drink it, they are ingesting a lot of calories, without a lot to show for it nutritionally.  Filling up on juice means kids may forego other more nutrient dense foods (like whole fruit).
  • Most commercial bottled juices go through a lot of processing – even the ones labeled “100% juice”.  Pasteurization at high heat levels destroys most of the nutrients and enzymes in the juice, so you are only left with empty calories.  And don’t even get me started on bottled juices that claim to be “all natural”.  Labelling laws are tricky as evidenced by the lawsuit against Tropicana.

Besides all the health considerations above, there is so much more flavour, texture and beauty in fresh, whole fruit.  As parents, we should take advantage of every opportunity to engage our kids in the enjoyment of whole food – getting blue fingers from fresh blueberries, digging for each segment of a grapefruit, eating a peach so soft that it drips down your chin.  You can’t get these types of experiences from opening up a bottle!

I absolutely don’t think juice is bad or evil.  Juice does have some nutrients and is obviously a better choice for kids than a lot of other beverages (I don’t think I need to tell anybody why Coke is not the healthiest of choices).  However, given the above considerations, and when fresh fruit and water are almost as easy and convenient as juice, why not go with the Real Food choice for our kids?

I do give juice to Tyson. I have a juicer, so I make homemade juice for the two of us when I can find the time – which is not very often considering how much time it takes to clean the darn thing afterwards.  I always include vegetables along with the fruit to lower the sugar content and increase the nutrient factor.

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However, my favourite “drink” for Tyson (besides water) is “blended” juice.  Instead of juicing the fruits and vegetables, I blend them in my magic bullet.  It’s a great way to “drink” your fruits and vegetables, while retaining all the fiber, and the nutrients in the pulp and skin.  It’s also another way to sneak some more greens and other vegetables into your toddler.  This Blended Green Lemonade is our current favourite combination.

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Blended Green Lemonade

Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: n/a
Yield:  2 servings

Ingredients

1 ripe pear, roughly chopped
1/3 cup diced cucumber
1 handful of greens and sprouts*
juice from 1/2 large lemon (or 1 whole small lemon)
1/3 cup water (or more)
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1/4 tsp grated ginger (optional)

Directions

1.  Put all ingredients into magic bullet or high-speed blender**
2.  Blend until completely smooth (for a magic bullet this will be a good 5-10 minutes)

*Start with something mild like romaine, leaf lettuce or spinach, and move on to more robust flavours such as kale or my favourite in this juice – parsley!  It sounds weird but it goes really well with the lemon and ginger.
**If you have a high-speed blender like a Vitamix or Blendtec, they will work really well for this recipe (and I am super jealous!)

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Okay, I know you are very skeptical of this, but I PROMISE that Green Lemonade is surprisingly delicious and refreshing.  The key is to blend it well and add more water if needed.  Nobody likes chunks of greens in their juice.  Tyson loves it and I always chuckle at the fact that he is actually drinking parsley.  As with all my recipes, I encourage you to play around with it.  Start by adding extra pear and then slowly replacing the pear with greens as you get accustomed to the taste.

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I want to end by just saying that the goal of this post (as with all my posts) is to provide readers with information from a holistic nutrition perspective, without judgement.  As parents we all make choices based on our own children and our own situation, and like I said, these topics are never black and white.  I make recommendations on the blog that I myself can’t always follow due to lack of time, resources, or a temperamental toddler!  So whether you give your child juice, or you don’t give your child juice, I hope this post provides you with at least a tidbit of new information.  Being a parent means continuous learning and adjusting!

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Do you struggle with whether or not to give juice to your kids?

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