Fruit juice is often seen as a healthy thirst quencher for kids. After all, it comes from fruit and is marketed as a good source of vitamins and nutrients. But according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), fruit juice actually has a lot of calories and not a lot of nutritional benefits.

Previous guidance from the AAP, issued back in 2001, advised against giving fruit juice to children under 6 months of age. But the new policy expands that time frame, recommending no fruit juice for the entire first year of life, unless clinically indicated, and, if possible, avoiding fruit juice altogether until age 6.

I asked Maria R. Mascarenhas, MBBS, Medical Director of the Clinical Nutrition Department, to weigh in on the reason for the shift. She says the problem is that fruit juice takes all the sugar from fruit and leaves behind a vital nutrient: dietary fiber.

“You are better off eating fruit and washing it down with water,” says Mascarenhas, echoing the AAP’s ultimate recommendation. “The fiber from the fruit is what you need to counterbalance the sugar in the fruit. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar, which keeps your blood sugar in check, reduces cholesterol and cleans your colon.”

Because fruit juice tastes good, children easily overconsume it. Studies have found an association between heavy juice consumption and obesity, tooth decay, and gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal distention and bloating, as well as malnutrition.

What to do?

The AAP set forth the following specific recommendations to curb the negative impact of fruit juice:

  • Don’t give fruit juice to infants younger than 1 year and avoid offering it to children under age 6.
  • If parents choose to give children fruit juice, limit intake to four ounces a day for children between ages 1 and 3, six ounces a day for children ages 4 to 6, and no more than eight ounces a day for children 7 and older.
  • To minimize the risk of tooth decay, serve juice in an open cup, not a bottle or sippy cup, so children can’t easily consume it throughout the day.
  • Don’t give juice at bedtime.
  • Encourage children to eat fruit.