Fast Take: Is your fruit juice glass half-empty or half-full?

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In case you weren’t paying attention, some juicy news circulated recently. Courtesy of the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), there are new recommendations on fruit juice consumption for infants, toddlers and adolescents.

Juice has historically been a part of almost every child’s diet. But at what age should it be introduced? That’s the main question the AAP answered in their latest report.

Previously, the AAP did not recommend juice to be included in the diet of infants younger than 6 months of age. Their latest policy statement now says parents should wait until 1 year of age before offering juice.

The AAP’s recommendation was centered on enhancing the nutrition and health of children and expands on some of the recommendations about fruit juice from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines (DGA).

Fruit juice can crowd out nutrients that are critical for infants

Growing infants need their nutrients. The AAP recommends that up until 6 months of age, the sole source of nutrients should be human milk, or prepared infant formula if breastfeeding is not possible or preferred. Feeding juice to infants before starting solids has the potential to displace the nutrients needed for optimal growth (think protein, fat, iron, calcium and zinc).

But this doesn’t mean that infants shouldn’t have fruit. They can. It’s just that it should be served in mashed or pureed forms, not as juice.

The juice recommendations for non-infants have changed slightly

While the new AAP recommendations say not to give fruit juice to infants, they are very clear that, in the proper quantity, fruit juice can be part of a healthy diet for all other age groups besides infants.

  • Toddlers and younger children (ages 1-3) can have up to 4 ounces of juice per day, whereas previous AAP guidelines said up to 4-6 ounces for this age group.
  • The recommendation for children ages 4-6 hasn’t changed. They can still have 4 to 6 ounces per day.
  • Older kids and adolescents (ages 7-18) are now recommended to limit fruit juice to no more than 8 ounces per day, down from 8-12 ounces in previous AAP recommendations.

Fruit juice guidelines may have changed for children, but here are a few reasons why fruit and its juice can still be part of a healthy eating pattern for non-infants:

Fruit is still good for you

Hopefully, it’s not news to you that fruits are loaded with beneficial nutrients like fiber and micronutrients (vitamins and antioxidants). We should eat more fruits, yet we tend to eat less of them the older we get. To help meet recommended amounts, get fruit in all forms including fresh, frozen, canned, and dried varieties.

Fruit juice can count toward fruit intake, but whole fruit should be the focus

Almost nobody eats enough fruit. Depending on age, it’s recommended that we get 1-2.5 cups per day, but only kids under 8 seem to follow through on this age-old advice. According to the DGA, about two-thirds of the fruit we consume is in the form of whole fruit, with juice making up the rest. The AAP and DGA both recommend that at least 50% of your fruit intake comes in the form of whole fruit.

While whole fruit should make up the majority fruit intake, fruit juice can contribute to overall fruit intake too. Since it’s easier to overconsume calories from fruit juice than it is from whole fruit, it’s important to know how much juice is needed to equal a fruit serving. One cup of 100% juice equals one serving of fruit. 50% juice equals one-half fruit serving.

Fruit juice still has a lot to offer

The AAP report recommends not giving juice to infants, but also that fruit juice can still be enjoyed by everyone else. While it does contain calories and could contribute to weight gain if over consumed, fruit juice offers numerous nutritional benefits (e.g., from vitamin C and flavonoids) which may help decrease risk from cancer and heart disease. When considering fruit juice options, look on the label to compare juice varieties by the percent juice and total calories per serving.

Bottom line about fruit juice

Fruit juice can be an important source of nutrients in a healthy eating pattern that contains the right amount of calories and added sugars. But fruit juice shouldn’t be the primary source of fruit intake or viewed as the only hydration option. No matter your age, a helpful strategy to limit excess calorie intake is to seek whole fruit first and primarily choose lower calorie beverages such as water, unsweetened coffee or tea and drinks sweetened with low- and no-calorie sweeteners.