One of the most common questions I and my partners get asked at well-child visits is, “How much juice should my child drink per day?” As parents, we want to ensure that our children are receiving adequate nutrition. There has been a change regarding juice consumption recom-mendations in recent years. Whereas previously juice was recommended to increase the intake of specific vitamins and also to alleviate con-stipation, we now know that the benefits are minimal and the negative aspects, including but not exclusive to increased caloric intake, can be detrimental. Whole fruits and vegetables are much preferred sources of vitamins and minerals and are also great sources of fiber and protein which juice does not contain. Although juice is marketed as a healthy choice, in many cases it is more harmful than good. The recommenda-tions regarding juice consumption for each age group is explored below.
For infants 6 months of age or younger, they should not be fed anything other than breastmilk and/or infant formula. There is no need for juice intake at this age and it can actually lead to a decrease in breast milk/formula consumption which can lead to malnutrition. Ideally, juice should not be given to infants under 12 months of age. They should receive their vitamin and mineral intake via fruits and vegetables. If it is offered, it should be given in a cup, not a bottle and the baby should not be able to “sip” on the juice throughout the day since that will lead to constant exposure of their teeth to sugar which can cause dental caries.
After 12 months of age, occasional juice consumption can help supplement vitamin and mineral intake. However, whole fruits and vegetables are still the preferred vehicle for these things. If a child does have juice at this age, daily consumption should not exceed 4 ounces. Al-so, in cases of vomiting or diarrhea, juice does not serve as a good oral replacement fluid for electrolyte losses. It can actually worsen the diarrhea and/or cause electrolyte abnormalities resulting in serious negative health outcomes.
For early school-aged children, the recommendations remain similar to those in infancy and toddler years. The consumption of whole fruit and vegetables still remain the preferred method to obtain needed vitamins and minerals along with protein and fiber. Juice should be consumed in very small quantities. Juice is very easily consumed and tastes good therefore many children drink more than they need and therefore consume more calories than are needed to sustain healthy growth and development. Also, as mentioned before, the risk of dental caries increases greatly in children who are exposed to large amounts of juice throughout the day.
For older school-aged children ages 7-18, recommendations are to keep juice consumption to less than 8 ounces per day. It is always preferred that consumption is limited to 100% juice to limit carbohydrate intake. Juice with pulp can offer some fiber but it pales in comparison to eating whole fruit or vegetables.
if your child does consume juice, remember that 100% juice is much preferred secondary to its reduced carbohydrate concentration. And, as always, physical activity is another essential component to remaining healthy and to a certain degree can offset consumption of excess calories.