Parents often ask me about letting their kids drink juice. Most kids love the taste of juice and would choose the sweet taste of juice over water. But is it the best beverage choice for your kids, and can it be a part of a healthy diet?
Why Milk is Better
Most experts agree that milk and water are the best beverage choices for kids. Milk contains essential calcium, protein, and other nutrients, while water provides necessary hydration without adding calories or sugar to your child’s diet. Milk contains 300mg of calcium per 8-ounce glass. Kids ages 1-3 need 700mg of calcium each day for growth, while kids ages 4-8 and older kids ages 9-18 need 1,000mg per day and 1,300mg per day, respectively.
If your elementary school child is drinking 3-4 glasses of milk each day, they are probably getting enough calcium from milk, so adding juice as an additional beverage should be OK as long as you aren’t concerned about additional calories and sugar in their diet.
If you want your child to have juice, look for ones that are labeled “100% fruit juice.” These juices are lower in calories and overall sugar content than juice drinks that contain only 10% fruit juice. Juices that are calcium fortified also offer a nutritional boost for your growing child. Look for a juice that has at least 300mg of calcium per serving if your child isn’t getting enough calcium from milk. The calcium in fortified juices appears to be absorbed just as well as the calcium in milk.
Many parents tell me that they give their kids juice for the necessary vitamin C. While most 100% fruit juices contain your child’s daily requirement of vitamin C per serving, you can get just as much vitamin C by serving your child fresh fruit and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables also contain fiber and other nutrients that you can’t get from juice. They are also much lower in calories and sugar.
Help! I Can’t Get My Kid Off of Juice!
There’s no reason to panic if your child is attached to their juice. Here are some things I recommend to parents who are trying to decrease their child’s juice intake:
- Try diluting fruit juices with water. You will need to do this slowly over time. Start by adding a little water to your child’s juice and gradually increasing it over time. This will reduce your child’s overall sugar intake and help them drink more water.
- Try making fruit smoothies out of fresh fruit. Your child will still get the great, sweet taste of the fruit, but using whole fruits will make it a much healthier drink. Add milk or yogurt to the fruit smoothie for a calcium boost.
- For those kids who just don’t like milk, have a milk allergy, or are lactose intolerant, try some of the milk substitutes like soy, almond, or coconut milk. They now come in other flavors like chocolate and vanilla, and contain more calcium per serving than a glass of cow’s milk.
- Teach your child that while juice can be part of a healthy diet, there are other beverages that are even more important in helping their bodies grow.
The Bottom Line
There are much healthier alternatives to juice. Unless your child cannot drink milk and you need to supplement with calcium fortified juices , it's best to stick with milk, water, and fresh fruit.
Published On: August 13, 2014