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Put Down the Juice: A Guideline to Healthier Options

It’s tempting to give juice to your child. There are plenty of easy options out there, from character juice cups to grab-and-go juice boxes. Too much juice in a child’s diet, however, can cause poor nutrition, obesity, and tooth decay.

Keeping a child hydrated is important for their diet and overall health. But too much sugar in their drink can cause problems.

“In the primary care setting, I see a lot of young children with constipation due to limited diets through the toddler age,” says Alanna Brickley, MD, a pediatrician at University of Utah Health. “One of the easiest ways to help with that is by increasing hydration status through water.”

How much is too much juice?

While providing juice to your child is not all bad, it’s best to do it in moderation. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting fruit juice to no more than 4 to 6 ounces a day for children ages 1 to 6 years old. Fruit juice is not recommended for infants under 12 months of age. It does not provide any nutritional benefit for young babies, according to the AAP. However, prune or pear juice can be used in small amounts to help babies with constipation.

Opting for water and milk are the healthiest options for children older than 1. Offering whole fruit is another healthy alternative to fruit juice as it contains fiber and other nutrients.

Here’s a guideline to providing healthy options for your little one:

Avoid the temptation

If you can avoid bringing sugary drinks in your home, there’s no temptation. “The easiest way to approach this is to not bring it into your home in the first place,” Brickley says. “Once it's there, kids know it's available and want it because it's delicious.” Having sugary drinks available in your home can also make it hard to limit proportions.

Limit juice as a special treat

If juice is always an option in your home, it may cause your child to lose interest in drinking water or milk. Instead, make juice intermittently available—and diluted—so it does not get recognized as a special or desirable treat like candy.

Make it fun

Water doesn’t always have to be boring—have some fun with it! Get your child involved in making their own special concoction by adding fresh fruit or switching it up with carbonated water. You can also freeze fruit inside ice cubes or offer fruits that are high in water such as watermelon, cantaloupe, or strawberries.

Look at the label

If you are choosing a drink besides water or milk, make sure the label contains:

  • 100% juice
  • No added sugars or sweeteners (sports drinks, lemonade, juice cocktails)
  • No high fructose corn syrup (sodas, sweet teas)

“Beware of false labeling,” Brickley says. “Some juices are marketed as being healthy options but could be loaded with sugar.”