Sure, fruit juice is delicious. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s concentrated sugar – and we humans are hardwired to crave that flavor, especially in childhood.
As parents, it’s our responsibility to limit the sugar and ingrain healthy eating habits. That includes limiting juice consumption.
According to the latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, that means no fruit juice for kids under the age of 1.
Fruit juice offers no nutritional advantage over whole fruit. A disadvantage of fruit juice is that it lacks the fiber of whole fruit. Kilocalorie for kilocalorie, fruit juice can be consumed more quickly than whole fruit. Reliance on fruit juice instead of whole fruit to provide the recommended daily intake of fruit does not promote eating behaviors associated with the consumption of whole fruit.
These facts are the same at any age. So what makes juice an okay choice for kids older than one?
The new recommendations state that 100-percent fresh or reconstituted fruit juice can be a healthy part of the diet of children older than 1 year when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet.
Try to have it both ways much?
While the recommendations are largely focused on preventing obesity and instilling healthy eating habits – both laudable goals, natch – there are dental concerns, as well. For as we mentioned before, it’s not just the sugar that’s an issue but the acidity of juice, as well. That acidity damages tooth enamel, and once it’s destroyed, it can’t grow back. You don’t have the cells needed to make that happen – all claims to “curing tooth decay” and “remineralization” aside.
Enamel erosion makes the softer dentin more vulnerable to the microbes that cause decay. Those microbes feast on sugar. It’s a real double whammy for your teeth.
You could even call it a triple whammy, for another thing happens when you eat sugar. Normally, the fluid that runs through the miles of microscopic tubules that make up the dentin flows away from the tooth, repelling pathogens. When you eat sugar, the flow reverses, pulling harmful microbes and their waste into the tooth.
Even the best preventive hygiene in the world may not be enough to counteract sugar’s effects on the teeth. One 2016 study found that even kids who ate the least sugar were not immune to caries – even when they used what conventional dentistry considers its best defense against them, fluoride. (To that point, a more recent study likewise found that fluoride did not prevent decay, just slowed it a touch.)
If you want to keep teeth healthy and whole, you’ve got to cut the sugar. There’s just no two ways about it. As one 2015 paper put it,
Without sugars, the chain of causation is broken, so the disease does not occur (Sheiham 1967). So, it is clear that sugars start the process and set off a causal chain; the only crucial factor that determines the caries process in practice is sugars.
So how much sugar can you get away with? Less than 3% of your total daily calories, according to a 2014 study in BMC Public Health. For a 2000-calorie diet, that’s just 60 calories – about 15.5 grams a day.
That’s less than in the AAP’s recommended serving size limit for 4- to 6-year olds: 6 ounces. Six ounces of apple juice gets you over 20 grams of sugar, about the same as 6 ounces of Coca-Cola. Grape juice contains 30 grams.
This is why we say, skip the juice and opt for the whole fruit. Not only do you – or your child – get less of a sugar and acid shock, you also get lots of what you do need: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber – the total nutritional package.