It is time to declare war on one of the biggest sources of sugar calories in an infant and child’s diet. Or should we say biggest source of liquid sugar calories? Long before your child is ever introduced (by you) to soda, they are offered juice. Parents pore more juice into daily bottles and sippy cups than they realize. Juice should be offered to enhance a child's diet. How do you do that? If you limit a young child’s intake to one or two “4 ounce” servings of juice daily, then you win a gold star. Because that's ALL they should have – if that much. Frankly, young kids would be better served by being given a piece of fresh fruit, or fresh whole fruit that is mashed, or as a third choice, a whole fruit that is juiced completely (pulp and all). Instead, parents are pouring bottle after bottle, sippy cup after sippy cup, of juice. They are doing it in the name of health, and they are also allowing sitters and other adults caring for their kids to do the same. You carry around a water bottle (I hope) so shouldn't your infant or toddler be doing the same?
I get the fact that juices are often fortified, or their labels scream all kinds of health messaging. You're grabbing it because it's a good source of vitamins, right? It cannot come as a shock to you (or maybe it will), that many juices also have added sugars and colorings, and that some juice choices have just as much sugar as a can of soda. In fact, a new report from the University of Glasgow in the U.K. suggests that most people underestimate the calories and sugar content in juice – by a lot. Over two thousand participants in the study underestimated the amount of sugar in juice by a 48% margin.
As a parent, you need to be a food and beverage detective. When you pick up that container of juice, you need to look at the nutrition label (for calories, sugar, and total carbohydrates) and at the ingredients listed on the package. If you see any version of the word sugar, then the juice has added sugar. Why, why would a company ADD sugar to juice? To make it sweeter, of course. And if the product does not have added sugar, it is still probably missing the nutrient-rich skin that the whole fruit offers. You're also drinking the fruit, instead of eating it, which means typically that you will be less satiated. You will also experience a blood sugar high, followed by a crash, since liquid that delivers sugar digest way more quickly, than the whole food counterpart. That's why it's not surprising that your kids ask for more. If you are trying to keep added sugars or refined sugars out of your life and your children’s diets, then limit juice and choose juices with no added sugars. It's also important to realize that not all healthy fruit smoothies are stellar choices. Many of the recipes use a heavy hand when it comes to the juice ingredient. You are better off blending your own smoothies at home, using whole fruits with a splash of juice and ice. Get your kids involved in preparing the recipe, and use the moment as an opportunity to talk about simple nutrition principles with them. Magic happens in the kitchen.
Limiting juice in the bottle and sippy cup requires parents to model healthy liquid behaviors. That means keeping soda and sweet beverages mostly out of the refrigerator and pantry, with the whole family drinking mostly water and unsweetened teas, and following age-appropriate milk guidelines. If mom or dad want soda, then commit to indulging mostly outside the home. Do not feel the need to introduce the beverage to your young child - drinking soda is not an American right-of-passage (though we seem to have made it one). Our family avoided the soda habit, and by the time my kids were exposed to soda at friends' homes, they were disinterested and frankly, they didn't like the fizz. To this day, soda is simply not part of our food repertoire.
There was a pretty popular milk campaign, “milk does a body good.” If I were creating an ad for juice, it would be, "a single serving of fresh juice made from the whole fruit, is OK." For the rest of your liquid calories, and especially when it comes to kids, turn to water and unsweetened teas for hydration and eat whole fruits……period.
Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience. Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts. Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch? Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at www.healthgal.com.
Published On: May 19, 2014