Juice Is Like Soda, Without the Bubbles

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In other words, it's not the healthy elixir you think it is.

Nutritional awareness has reached a point where most people realize that soda and energy drinks are not healthy. Whether or not this affects a person's decision to partake in these beverages is another matter, but the point is that their unhealthiness is now mostly an undisputed fact.

Juice, on the other hand, has somehow escaped the unhealthy label. Despite having a sugar content equivalent to that of soda (10 teaspoons per 12-ounce serving), it still enjoys a healthy halo, and thus continues to feature prominently on breakfast tables, in kids' lunches, and on daycare menus. Particularly for kids, juice is seen as an easy way of getting important vitamins and minerals into their bodies, which may be why the average kid in the U.S. drinks 10 ounces of juice per day -- double the amount recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A trio of paediatricians wants this to change. In an article for the New York Times titled "Seriously, Juice Is Not Healthy", the three doctors argue that it's time we stopped pretending that juice is different from other sugary beverages.

One of the biggest concerns is the sugar content, which nobody needs these days, in light of the obesity crisis currently afflicting the United States. Studies have shown that drinking juice prior to a meal actually makes a person hungrier, leading them to overeat.

Juice is not the same as whole fruit because it lacks the fibre that fills a person up. That is why "children who drink juice instead of eating fruit may similarly feel less full and may be more likely to snack throughout the day." The doctors also expressed concern over juice being a "gateway drink" to other sugary beverages. From the article:

"One-year-olds who drank more juice also drank more sugary beverages, including more soda, in their school-age years. Children’s excessive consumption of juice has been linked to an increased risk of weight gain, shorter stature and cavities. Even in the absence of weight gain, sugar consumption worsens blood pressure and increases cholesterol."

Reading the comments on the original article was interesting. There was much defensiveness of juice, particularly fresh, homemade juice made with fruit and vegetables, but even those appear to fall under the authors' ban, saying, "There is no evidence that juice improves health."

A pediatric dentist had sobering thoughts to share, describing the rampant tooth decay he sees in patients as young as 14 months old.

"I routinely treat children [whose] upper front teeth destroyed, often beyond repair, by sleeping with or carrying around bottles of juice. We have been led to believe, as the authors state, that juice is a healthy alternative to soda, and it is not. Would you put your baby to sleep with a bottle of Mountain Dew? Of course not (though I have treated too many of those toddlers, too). Juice is soda without the bubbles."

So what should a child drink? It's fairly simple. Give him or her water to accompany meals. Milk is another option, depending on your family's views on it, though not necessary. Teach your child by omission that hydration need not taste sugary, that the satisfying quench of water is sufficient. Save juice for special occasions, then dilute it. With my own kids, I find this easiest to do by not buying juice or soda; when it's not in the house, the temptation is not there.

As the authors say, "It's much easier to prevent obesity than it is to reverse it." Establish healthy beverage habits from the beginning and your child will thank you someday.