Each year, the world produces and consumes about 12.8 billion tons of fruit juice.
It’s a more common drink in wealthier parts of the world, and in the United States, fruit juice is actually more profitable for farmers than fruit. It’s especially popular with kids, and why not? After all, fruit juice is delicious and nutritious.
Well, as it turns out, maybe not nutritious.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued new recommendations, and it’s troubling news for parents who use fruit juices to keep their kids hydrated (and quiet).
The guidelines seem to push back against an earlier conclusion: that half of a child’s daily fruit intake could come from fruit juices, rather than real fruits. The academy no longer maintains that fruit juices are an adequate substitution in every case, and the new rules note that since juices are “easily overconsumed,” parents should exercise caution when giving them to their children.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the new guidelines.
Babies should not receive fruit juice until they’re a year old.
Instead, they should receive infant formula or breast milk until 6 months of age. They shouldn’t receive fruit juice under any circumstances, as juice could potentially stunt their growth. Parents can give children mashed or pureed fruit past the 6-month marker.
This is a notable change from earlier guidelines, which allowed 6-month-old children to have juice.
From age 1 to 4, children should only receive a maximum of four ounces of juice per day.
They should receive a cup of fruit per day in total, but only 4 ounces can come from fruit juice. That’s an extremely small amount by most parents’ standards; Mott’s Apple Juice, for instance, comes in 6.75-ounce boxes, so toddlers wouldn’t be able to consume an entire box without exceeding the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations.
In fairness to food and beverage companies, their product sizes are largely based on older dietary guidelines, so we may see juice box sizes shrink over the next few years.
“In the past, we’ve always said generally 6 to 8 ounces per day and we weren’t really focusing on the age group,” said clinical dietitian Kristi King in an interview with CBS. “The new recommendations are much more tangible.”
There’s another significant issue to consider: Most fruit juice isn’t really fruit juice.
The academy strongly recommends reading labels (which aren’t always completely accurate) to find 100 percent fruit juices.
As fruit juices are big business, many manufacturers add sugar and other ingredients to make their products more palatable to children. This can increase calorie counts and further reduce the nutritional value of juices.
Parents should also make sure that schools aren’t providing children with juices, as many schools still operate under the old guidelines, offering juice in place of real fruits (and sacrificing nutrition in the process).
Ultimately, the safest practice is to choose whole fruits wherever possible. Juices may be delicious, but they’re hardly nutritious—especially for growing children.