The big deal about juice

Fruit is a deliciously sweet way to retrain your taste buds to healthy eating. (Gerald S. Williams / Staff File Photo)

Growing up, my family always had orange juice in the refrigerator. Weekday breakfasts were a no brainer: oatmeal or an English muffin and orange juice. It was fast, easy, and pretty darn healthy.  Never once did my parents stop and say, "Maybe the calorie content is too high and perhaps we should be more conscious of this."  Juice was part of our morning … but not part of our whole day.  

Today, it seems that juice has become a dirty word in the nutrition and medical communities. Juice gets some big-time blame for problems it never intended to be part of (diabetes and obesity are at the top of that list).  Do I think that drinking one serving of 100 percent fruit juice is the cause of the obesity crisis? No. Do I think that the fluorescent pints of fruit-beverage/juice cocktail/punch may be a contributing factor to bigger waistlines? Absolutely. Why? Because American children are drinking too much, and much of what they drink is not the real deal (100 percent fruit juice). 

The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked parents how much juice their children drank daily. Thirty-five percent of families across all economic levels averaged two or more cups per day for children ages 1 through 5. That is at least twice the amount recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for that same age group.

So what is the big deal, and why should it be limited (even the 100 percent juice)? Let me give you an example. Just yesterday I was getting a take-out lunch, and went to the cooler to grab a small fruit salad.   The fruit salad was right next to 12 ounce cups of fresh squeezed orange juice. Because of the wonderful nutrition labeling laws, there stood the fruit salad marked 70 calories, while the orange juice was 130. I loved seeing the blatant comparison of what I was eating in its whole fruit form, versus what many children would drink without thinking. The juice was almost twice as many calories with no fiber, and no feeling of being full. Even I was surprised, and I do this for a living. Outside of being a significant source of calories for children, excessive juice drinking can also lead to tooth decay.

At a recent town hall meeting addressing childhood obesity prevention, Cindy Christan, medical director of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, ended her presentation with one simple message, "Eat your juice."  Eating your juice in whole fruit form helps to make sure you get 100 percent of its nutrients, limits additional sugar intake, and adds fiber to your child’s day. How can you best help your family cut back on their juice consumption?

  • If your children are used to drinking two or more servings per day, dilute 100 percent fruit juice with water.  Start with one-quarter water to three-quarters juice, then slowly make your way to a half-and-half juice/ water mix.
  • Take fruit out of the fridge.  If fruits are accessible and easily seen, they are more likely to be remembered as a healthy snack. 
  • Be an example for your children. Let them see you “eat your juice,” and they will be more inclined to follow.

What about you? Any thoughts on how to reduce our kids' juice consumption?