Is Juice Bad for Kids?
Whenever I take my kids to the park, I always see herds of kids who are sucking down on juice boxes like it’s going out of style. Their parents are always so eager to hand out the boxes of liquid sweetness because they think that they are providing their little ones with a healthy dosage of vitamins. So, it is no wonder that they all look at me crazily when I say that I don’t let my kids drink juice except as a treat – no, not even the organic, no sugar added “healthy” juice.
Why is juice bad for kids (and adults for that matter)? Well, for starters…
Juice is Straight Up Sugar
Most juice that you buy in the store is loaded with sugar. But, even if you are buying the “no sugar added” juice, it is still sugar.
When you juice a fruit, all of the fiber is removed from the juice. (source) You are left with a dosage of concentrated fructose. Just like refined sugar, fructose causes your blood sugar levels to rise. You get a burst of energy (aka what you’d call “hyperactive” in a kid). The burst of energy doesn’t last for long though. High blood sugar levels triggers your body to store the energy as fat. After the sugar is stored, your blood sugar levels come crashing down. (source) This leaves you feeling tired and cranky.
But what goes up must come down…
Want to see behavioral problems? Just give your kids some juice and wait for the blood sugar spike and crash!
Here is where things get really bad. Our blood sugar levels are one of the factors which regulate hunger. When blood sugar is low, the hunger hormone ghrelin is produced in the brain and hunger is triggered. And what do you start craving? Your body craves more sugary foods to replace the sugar it just lost. So, you end up in a cycle of craving sweet stuff, crashing, and craving more sweets. (source)
There is all sorts of evidence which links fruit juice to type 2 diabetes. For example, in one study, researchers found that people who drank 1 cup of fruit juice per day had a 21% higher chance of developing diabetes. (source)
In whole fruit, the fructose isn’t as much of an issue because the fiber slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. That is why you can eat an apple and feel full and satisfied or a long time. By comparison, try drinking a glass of apple juice (1 glass = about 6-8 apples!) and see how you feel.
Juice Is Calories with very few Nutrients
More than 1/3 of children and adolescents are overweight or obese- yikes!- so I guess it’s time we start thinking about the amount of calories our kids are getting. (source) Let me be clear, I’m not advocating calorie counting for children especially when they are eating a diet that is at least 80% real whole foods including protein, fat and healthy carbohydrates but I don’t see the need to top that off with a tall glass of empty calories which only serves to wire them up and fatten them up.
A lot of parents are really shocked to find out how many calories are in the juice they give their kids. For example, 8oz of a popular brand of “100% Orange Tangerine Juice” has 130 calories and 31 grams of sugar! This is more calories and sugar than in an 8oz can of Coca Cola!!!
If you aren’t trying to lose weight, then you may not care so much about the calorie aspect. But, again, these calories are pretty much pure sugar in the form of fructose, not nourishing calories that fuel your physical and mental performance and acuity.
For adults trying to kick the juice, soda or sugar habit I recommend this program.
Popular juice brands have the gall to make claims on their websites like their product “provides one full serving (1/2 cup) of fruit and 100% of the USDA recommended amount of Vitamin C for kids”. They also have the gall to show pictures of actual fruit on their labels, implying that drinking their juice is just as good as eating real fruit. This is NOT the case. It’s just clever marketing. Don’t fall for it!
Also, store-bought juice is pasteurized. Even the “healthy” juices pasteurize their juice and the heat from pasteurization kills off the nutritious, beneficial properties of the juice, like their vitamins and enzymes. (source) Non-organic fruit juices are also often irradiated to get rid of bacteria and make them last longer. Irradiation kills nutrients in food, not to mention creates numerous potential health risks like promoting cancer.
Obviously, fresh homemade juices have more nutrients than the packaged ones you buy in the store and is definitely the best choice if you’re gonna do the juice thing. But even these don’t provide the same nutrients as whole fruit. When the juice is exposed to oxygen, the oxygen causes the nutrients to start breaking down. Just think of how quickly an apple turns brown after it is peeled. So, your homemade apple juice which if you let it sit is like drinking a brown apple. Yuck!
I have to say that I’ve made juice at home and I just can’t see how it’s worth the trouble and the mess to do it more than ocassionally.
Juice Trains Kids to Expect Constant Sweetness
Try to eat an orange after drinking a glass of fructose-concentrated orange juice. It just won’t taste as sweet. And, after a glass of juice, foods like broccoli and carrots are going to be a hard sell.
Even though our ancestors did have access to fruits, they certainly did not have access to fruit juice. Theoretically, they could have squeezed the juice from an orange into their mouths, but the modern orange tree didn’t exist until 2500BC in China. (source) The fruits which our ancestors did eat, like berries, couldn’t be juiced so easily. So, it is safe to say that they never ate anything near as sweet as the stuff we are used to.
Other parents often find it amazing that my kids have no problem eating things like pan-fried salmon, Brussels sprouts and bacon, or homemade sauerkraut. It really isn’t amazing. It is just what is put in front of them and their palates have adapted over time so they actually find real food tasty.
Yes, I know breast milk is sweet and babies might give you the stink eye when you transition them to water from breast milk but is the solution to fill their bottles with apple juice? I really don’t think so.
So, What Do I Give My Kids to Drink Instead of Juice?
If they’re thirsty water is all they really need. After all, water makes up about 60% of our bodies. I also give them lots of naturally-fermented drinks like kombucha which are full of nutrients and healthy bacteria for their little guts. To make it more flavorful, I add whole fruits to the brew. Check out my recipes for Strawberry Kombucha and Apricot Kombucha. You and your kids will love it! Many people have kicked their soda addiction by swapping it out for kombucha instead!
As for whole fruit, I pretty much let my kids eat as much of it as they want. A few hours before dinner I cut them off so they won’t be too full for the good stuff but otherwise I let them graze.
Does this mean I never let my kids have juice?
Not at all! If they are at a birthday party or like last weekend when we were camping with friends, I’ll let them have a juice box. Why? Because (in moderation) it is a relatively harmless treat. But that’s just what it is – a treat. Like a slice of paleo cake. And both those things score me major points as “cool mom of the day” with them. The bottom line is that for me, juice falls into the 20% of our 80/20 approach (you can read more about my approach to paleo here).
Interested in transitioning your kids to a real food diet? I wrote about how I transitioned mine in this article, How to Get your Kids to eat Paleo.
Think there’s no way you can get your kids to eat well? Check out my ebook, Paleo Made Easy: Getting your Family Started with the Optimal Healthy Lifestyle. Trust me, it’s easier than you think and totally worth it!
What do you think – Is juice bad for kids? Do you let your kids drink juice? I’d love to hear from you!
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