As thoughtful parents, we constantly evaluate the nutrition we provide for our children. Beverages are an important part of this equation. Some beverages, such as sodas, are obviously unhealthy. But what about fruit juice? Juice comes from fruit, so it must be a healthy alternative to other sugared drinks, right? Not entirely.
The greatest concern about fruit juice is its sugar content. Did you know that one glass of apple juice can contain as much sugar as fourteen Pixy Stix?! Sandi Jones has produced a series of nicely-formatted tables comparing the nutritional value of real fruit to various brands of fruit juice. In most cases, the juice contains nearly double the amount of sugar in a whole fruit and significantly fewer nutrients.
Fruit juice is not a regular grocery purchase for me, but I admit that I serve it occasionally. Some fruit juices are at least free of artificial flavors and dyes, unlike soft drinks. While they are not as nutritious as whole fruits, juices can provide a source of vitamins as well. Attachment parenting advocate Dr. Sears recommends juices labeled as 100% fruit juice, without added high fructose corn syrup, and with a cloudier appearance (a "reminder of their origins"). He especially favors citrus juices and nectars, which are less heavily processed than other fruit juices.
If you have decided to cut back on fruit juice, here are some ideas to decrease your child's juice consumption:
Eat the whole fruit. When you eat a whole fruit, you get not only its juice but also a wealth of nutritional benefits. Fruits can be excellent sources of fiber, vitamin C, carotenoids, and phytonutrients. See this page for a list of 31 favorite fruits and their nutrients.
Sip on herbal tea. Emily Berns reports in a Mothering.com article that in Germany, Kindergartners drink a variety of sugarless tea rather than juice--and most of them like it! You can purchase herbal teas in countless flavors, including blueberry and pumpkin spice. If your child needs a touch of sweetness, add a few drops of honey or a sprinkle of stevia.
Try a green smoothie. Smoothies use whole fruits instead of just the juice, so you still get their nutritional benefits. Green smoothies, in particular, balance the sugary fruit with equal amounts of a dark green leafy vegetable like kale or spinach--trust me, you will barely notice it! The Best of Raw Food shares some tasty green smoothie recipes, as well as a simple formula to create your own smoothie. These blends can be frozen in popsicle molds for a healthier warm-weather treat.
Spritz up your water. If you do serve juice, you can cut the sugar content by diluting the juice with water by 50% or more. Often a small amount of juice will add some flavor. Mixing juice with sparkling water mimics the fizzy effect of soda without as many empty calories.
What do you think about juice? Yay or nay? What creative alternatives do you use?