By now you’ve probably heard about Dr. Oz’s war against apple juice. The doctor/TV personality recently made claims that many brands of apple juice contain too much arsenic, a known cancer-causing agent found in many pesticides.
The Food and Drug Administration was quick to respond to Oz’s study, saying that any trace levels of arsenic found in apple juice sold in the US was perfectly safe, and statements to the contrary were “irresponsible and misleading.”
Inflammatory or not, Oz’s attack on apple juice seems to have gotten the public’s attention. But as many people consider the hidden ingredients in their kids’ favorite drink, they seem to be ignoring a far more obvious problem with many popular juices: Large amounts of sugar.
With labels boasting “all natural” and “organic” ingredients, many parents are lulled in to a false sense of security when it comes to juice, often skipping over the ingredients listed on the bottle. If it’s from fruit it’s got to be good for you, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true.
“Most types of juice are no different than soda when it comes to sugar content,” says Suzanne Rostler, MS, RD, LDN a clinical nutrition specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston’s Optimal Weight for Life program (OWL). “Juice may have more vitamins than soda, but even this isn’t always the case. Ideally, whole fruit would provide these vitamins — as well as fiber and many other phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients) not found in juice.”
Like most treats, juice is fine in moderation, but labeling it as healthy is a marketing trick; like soda, most juices on the market are essentially just water and sugar. Compare the labels and you’ll see. An 8-ounce glass of apple juice contains 110 calories and 22 grams of sugar. The same amount of Coca-Cola has 100 calories and 27 grams of sugar.
When it comes to hydrating your children, water or milk really are the best options, and the earlier you start them on those beverages the better. “Giving juice to very young children trains their palates to accept only sweet-tasting drinks,” Rostler says. “It’s best to avoid juice altogether from a young age.”
It’s good advice for parents of infants, but what about the millions of parents who have toddlers that only like sweet juices? Rostler recommends diluting their favorite juice with water. This not only ups their water consumption, but over time it will help reduce their cravings for sugary beverages.
But even if this stealth methods works for weaning kids off juice, Roslter recommends setting firm limits on juice drinking so they also understand that it isn’t a healthy alternative to soda. “Parents can set limits around juice just like they do around television, videogames or anything else,” she says. “If you do allow children to have juice, do it with a balanced meal rather than on an empty stomach. This blunts the blood sugar and insulin response that occurs with sugary drinks and processed carbohydrates.”