Feeding Your Family: The Juice Wars

By Larissa Phillips

We have a problem in my house. It comes in a rainbow of colors and flavors, goes by a seemingly limitless number of names, and is available on almost every street corner in town. It's juice, and no matter what kind it is, my children will drink it by the gallon.

Is it any surprise that children are the largest consumers of juice in this country? Hoping to outwit our kids, my husband has taken the exotic approach. A juice junkie himself, he buys juices like black cherry, pomegranate and papaya, thinking our children will snub such strange fare. The more exotic blends do give our 8-year-old pause. He's an orange juice man, through and through. But there is no stopping our 3-year-old. With that uncanny radar for sweets that some children possess, she can spot the tiniest sliver of a carton of juice peeking out from the depths of the fridge. Given free rein, she'll see to it that even straight pomegranate juice is gone in an afternoon.

According to Anne VanBeber, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Christian University, this is way too much of a good thing. "Juice does contain vitamins and minerals," she says, "but it is also a concentrated source of sugar." VanBeber limits her own children to one glass of juice a day - and she waters it down.

What's better than juice? Fruit. "Eating the whole fresh fruit also provides more fiber for them," VanBeber says.

Whatever you do, she adds, don't let your kids get hooked on fake juice, the stuff that's filled with corn syrup and artificial flavors. Real juice is sweet enough!

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends limiting juice consumption in children. Here are a few guidelines based on AAP recommendations:

  • Don't give any juice to children under 6 months old.

  • Save the sippy cups for water; walking around with constant access to juice can create a juice habit, cause cavities and leave small stomachs with no room for more nutritious fare.

  • Don't give juice at bedtime.

  • Kids ages 1 to 6 should have no more than 4 to 6 ounces of juice per day.

  • Kids 7 to 18 should have no more than 8 to 12 ounces of juice per day.

  • Encourage whole fruit instead of juice whenever possible.

Even more important than picking the kind of juice is making sure your kids have access to enough cool, fresh water. VanBeber says the best way to tell if your kids are adequately hydrated is to look at their urine. "If it is too yellow, or if it has a strong odor, then they are probably dehydrated." Making sure fresh cold water is available all day, she says, will keep them satisfied and hopefully not wanting sugary drinks.

That sounds good to me. We have diluted juice once in a while, and keep a cold pitcher of filtered water in our fridge.

Here's to staying hydrated!