A lot of parents give their small children juice, and although many pediatricians say between 4 and 6 ounces a day is OK, I would like to convince you to treat juice as a treat, not a staple.  Here’s why.

For starters, most juice isn’t as nutritious as you probably think.  But even if it were, regular juice consumption reinforces your child’s desire for sweet flavors.  And when you are trying to influence your child’s habits, the more sweet is the flavor your child prefers, the harder it is to get her to eat something that’s not sweet. Something  like broccoli, for instance.

On the nutrition front:  Do you know about the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System? It’s a great tool to assess the nutritional value of your favorite foods.  The NuVal System gives items a score from 1 to 100 after taking into consideration all a food’s nutritional positives and negatives. The closer the number is to 100 the healthier the item is, and the closer the number is to zero, well, the closer the item is to a nutritional zero.

So how does juice fare?  Not so well.  The highest ranking juices (Lakewood Pure Cranberry and Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit) each get a score of 82.  But the juices parents most often give their kids…

  • Mott’s Mini Apple Grape Juice gets a 16
  • Mott’s Original Apple Juice gets a 10
  • Mott’s Natural Fresh Pressed 100% Apple Juice Unsweetened gets a 6
  • Welch’s Grape Juice from Concentrate gets a 2

The thing to take away from this is not that Mott’s or Welch’s is bad. Rather, apple and grape juice are pretty much nutritional nothings.

On the habits front:

  • The USDA classifies juice concentrate as a sugar and so should you.  When fruit juice concentrate is listed on a label, read that as sugar.
  • Ounce-for-ounce, apple juice has more calories than Coke (15 per ounce in apple juice — depending on the brand — compared to 12 per ounce in Coke).
  • To the extent fruit juice trains your child to like sweetened drinks, it can lead to problems. At least one study has found evidence of a link between sweetened beverage consumption — including fruit drinks — and obesity in preschoolers.

What’s more, giving your child fruit juice does nothing to promote the habit of eating fresh fruit.  And it’s fresh fruit that has been shown to have all the health benefits.

Sources: www.mypyramid.gov:What are added sugars?; Calculations from nutrition labels; Dubois, L., Farmer, A., Girard, M. Peterson, K. 2007. “Regular Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption between Meals Increases Risk of Overweight among Preschool-Aged Children.” The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107(6):924-934; www.nuval.com accessed 7/2009.