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Is Juice Kid-Friendly? Shocking Sugar Facts About Juice

When I was growing up, “juice” was standard fare for kids. Those were the Kool-Aid days . . . but now we realize that even juice that comes from real fruits and not a packet of sugary powder is not necessarily healthful.

What is so wrong about juice or other sugary beverages? Isn’t a glass of orange juice an important part of a well-rounded breakfast?

Here are some facts about juice and sugary beverages that may surprise you.

One cup (8 ounces) of apple juice – even 100% apple juice with no sugar added – has the same amount of sugar as 5 apples. Five! Can you imagine your child eating 5 apples at once? The same approximation is true for orange juice. And many companies sell juices in much larger quantities: an average bottle is 15.2 ounces: that’s nearly 10 apples worth of sugar.

We all know that soda is bad for us. But did you know that juice and soda have a similar sugar content? A 12 ounce can of coke, for example, has 40 grams of sugar. (4 grams of sugar are equivalent to 1 teaspoon and so that is nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar.) The average bottle of apple juice? Though sugar content varies, most apple juice has about 40 grams of sugar in a 12 ounce bottle. Again, that’s equivalent to almost 10 teaspoons of sugar.

And the sugar in juice packs a punch. When kids eat an apple, the fiber in the apple slows the processing of the sugar, allowing it to enter the blood stream at a slow, steady rate.  Juice lacks this fiber, however, and the sugar gets absorbed and metabolized rapidly, like jet engine fuel, pushing your child up into the stratosphere, only to come crashing down.  What does science have to say about the impact of sugary beverages on kids’ health?

These days, we all know that obesity is an epidemic.  Studies looking at the role of sugary beverages in the development of obesity suggest an association.  And can we prevent this?  A recent study suggested that putting drinking fountains in schools decreased obesity:
A link School Water Fountains to Prevent Obesity

Did the kids in the schools with drinking fountains drink more water and therefore fewer sugary beverages? While the causation was not straightforward, it is certainly suggestive.

A study published in the April 2009 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that sugary beverage consumption correlates to insulin resistance in adolescents. Insulin resistance leads to type 2 diabetes, which is on the rise in adolescents and children. In other words, research suggests that drinking too much juice, soda and other sugary beverages may contribute to the development of diabetes.

In the end, juice is not poison.  And it is not the only factor leading to childhood obesity and diabetes in modern society.  But for children, juice is not an elixir of health, and should not be treated as such.

So what to do? Cut out the juice, or at least minimize juice consumption. Stick to water. Water is , after all, the elixir of life . . .

Tips for parents:

  • I recommend that kids of all ages drink mostly water and milk.
  • I advise parents to think of juice as “liquid candy.” Okay, perhaps that is a little dramatic, but for a healthy diet juice should be considered a treat rather than a routine addition to a meal or a means of hydration.
  • If you do give your child juice, take a lesson from the French:  they serve it in the cutest itty-bitty glasses.
  • To make sure that your child gets all of the vitamins and minerals that they need to stay healthy, encourage them to eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables. Your child will get plenty of vitamins eating an orange instead of drinking a glass of orange juice, without the excess of sugar or the spike and fall in blood glucose.
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