The Truth About Juice

Hi there, Mamas!  We’ve talked a lot about starting baby on solid foods (When to Start, Which Foods to Choose, and even L’s Solid Food Timeline), but besides formula and breast milk, we haven’t talked too much about drinks.  Juice comes from fruits, so it seems like a healthy choice, but it’s also high in sugar.  So, without further ado, here it is:

The Truth About Juice

Just like my TV inspiration, Rory Gilmore, I’ll break it down in Pro/Con format.

Pro Juice:

  • Can help babies take a cup.  Some infants may be resistant to taking a cup instead of a bottle.  But, it’s important that any non-formula/breast milk liquids be served in a cup so that the baby can start to transition and be completely done with bottles by the time they’re one year old.  That being said, plain old water doesn’t always provide the same “incentive” as juice does.
  • Can help increase iron absorption.  Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron more effectively.  It is a fortified nutrient in most baby juices and may be present, either naturally or through supplementation, in many other juices.  BUT… children up to one year old only need 50 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C each day; toddlers through age 3 only need 15 mg each day.  One cup of strawberries has 85 mg [source].
  • Can act as a laxative.  This could be good or bad, depending on your individual baby.  If your kiddo is constipated, then this might be worth a try.  However, as it helps to quickly pass food through the GI tract, your little one might not be absorbing nutrients as thoroughly as they normally would.  Apple, pear, and prune juices can be especially beneficial for constipation.

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Con Juice:

  • Can increase sweet tooth.  Juice is sweet, so it’s easy to like.  This can make kids less willing to try or continue to eat more savory, harder to like foods, like vegetables.  Goodness knows we don’t need another reason to avoid tasty and nutritious veggies.
  • Can displace nutritious foods.  If kids are constantly drinking juice, their bellies may not be empty come dinner time.  Also, because juice is high in sugar, their insulin will be elevated, which can decrease appetite.  I won’t say that juice is completely void of nutrients, but they are limited.
  • No fiber.  As my regular readers know, fiber is my nutrition BFF.  Unlike the fruit that the juice is made from, there is little to no fiber in most juices.  Fiber can help increase fullness, improve “regularity”, feed our good gut bacteria, and stabilize blood sugar levels.  It’s basically a nutrition super hero.  Most fiber (or “pulp”) from juices is discarded or largely removed.  {Smoothies, on the other hand, do contain all of the fiber, because they have the whole fruit blended into the mix.}
  • Can contribute to excess calories.  Just like with adults, it’s not wise to drink your calories.  (Unless you’re under one year old, when breast milk or formula make up a good part, if not all, of your diet.)  Liquid calories don’t register the same way solid ones do, so we can end up adding hundred of calories to our diet each day without even realizing it – and without the fullness we get from solid calories.  {For more on calories, check out this RDN Mama article.}  

My own experiences:  I was slightly paranoid about L becoming a sugar-addict, like myself (what can I say?  My grandmother dipped my pacifier in sugar…what’s a baby to do?).  So, I chose to avoid juice until she became very constipated (and the prunes weren’t helping).  She didn’t really care for it, and, honestly, seemed a little confused by the white grape juice we gave her.  She certainly didn’t mind switching back to water when she was feeling better.  Since then, we have avoided giving her juice.  She doesn’t miss it and she certainly doesn’t need it.  (Although, we did call milk “cow juice” when she had issues taking cow’s milk after she weaned.  It didn’t help.)

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The verdict?

If you choose to give your little one juice, make sure it’s no more than 4-6 ounces each day and that it’s watered down.  Don’t waste your money on the higher cost “baby juice”.  Serve juice only in a cup and only at meal times (water only between meals, please!).  However, you can see the Cons are definitely in favor here.  Your kiddo’s health certainly won’t suffer if you choose not to give it to them all together.  In fact, it might even improve.  Ultimately, water is the best beverage for kids (or anyone else – with a second to dairy or soy milk to get that calcium and protein).

{This information pertains to fruit juice, fruit “drink”, or other sugary beverages (whether the sugar is naturally occurring or not).  Vegetable juices are certainly a much lower-calorie choice, if you choose to juice.}

What are your kiddos’ favorite drinks, Mamas?  Do you choose to serve juice?


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