Babies under one year old should not drink fruit juice at all. That’s the stance by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP).
The 2017 statement was is the AAP’s first change in recommendations on fruit juice since 2001. Over past years, it advised against offering fruit juice to babies younger than six months.
The concern is that juice offers no nutritional benefits early in life, and can take the place of what babies really need: breast or formula milk and their protein, fat and minerals like calcium.
“Parents may perceive fruit juice as healthy, but it is not a good substitute for fresh fruit and just packs in more sugar and calories,” says Dr Melvin B. Heyman, pediatric gastroenterologist and co-author of the AAP statement.
“Small amounts in moderation are fine for older kids, but are absolutely unnecessary for children under one.”
So how much juice is appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers?
When consumed as part of a well-balanced diet, the AAP recommends restricting it to 110ml daily for one- to three-year-olds, and 170ml a day for four- to six-year-olds.
Why fruit juice is bad for babies
Dietitians and nutritionists in Singapore concur that juice offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit, and it shouldn’t be considered a replacement for fruit to meet a person’s recommended daily fruit intake.
Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, a nutritionist at the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association, puts it this way: “The benefits of eating a fresh, whole fruit are greater than the sum of its parts.”
A 110ml cup of apple juice has no fibre, and contains 60 calories and 13g of sugar. By comparison, a half cup of apple slices has 1.5g of fibre, 30 calories and 5.5g of sugar. The fibre in fruit also increases fullness.
The experts also agree that juice should be given only as a treat because of its high sugar content.
The Nutrition Clinic’s co-founder, Pooja Vig, says that because the juicing process strips fruit of its dietary fibre, pulp and skin, fruit juice is a concentrated source of natural sugars.
“When you consume fruit juice, you are ultimately giving yourself a sugar shot,” she says.
How to make fruit juice healthier for babies
While dietitian Derrick Ong, founder of Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy, agrees that valuable nutrients do get lost in the process of juicing, other nutrients such as vitamin C and folate – which are essential for building healthy tissues and blood cell development – are retained.
Dr Kalpana, too, agrees that fruit juice is not devoid of nutrients. “Juice does contain antioxidants and carbohydrates,” she says.
Boxed juices are also not necessarily inferior to freshly pressed or cold-pressed juices, adds Derrick, as these are likely to be pasteurised to preserve the nutrients.
But he advises the consumption of freshly pressed and cold-pressed juices as soon as possible to avoid further nutrient losses through exposure to the air.
If your kids don’t take well to fruit, consider making smoothies instead, the experts suggest.
Related: Smoothie recipes for kids
The whole fruit is blended in a smoothie, which means the dietary fibre is retained.
When nuts and calcium-rich fluids such as milk are added into the mix, the resulting smoothie packs more of a punch than fruit juice.
Another option is to dilute the fruit juice by adding veggies. “When you juice vegetables along with fruit, you are getting concentrated nutrients, and you are diluting the sugar content in the juice,” Pooja says.
When offering juice to toddlers, don’t put it in bottles or easily transportable “sippy cups” that allow them to consume juice easily throughout the day, the AAP adds.
Toddlers should not be given juice at bedtime, as well.
“We know that excessive fruit juice can lead to excessive weight gain and tooth decay,” says neonatologist Steven A. Abrams, who is also the co-author of the AAP statement.
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.
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