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Is juice an option for children?

Posted on: 16th July 2015

Posted in: Children's Nutrition

Earlier this week on my Facebook page, I asked for suggestions of what topics people wanted covering in my blog. As this was a popular choice, I thought I’d start with this. As a mum of three children myself, I have first-hand experience of how difficult it can be to get children (especially toddlers) to drink suitable fluids. Is juice (or squash) ever an option for children? This post will show you the pros and cons of the different types of juices.

First a bit about milk and water….. We know that milk and water are the only recommended fluids for under-5s, as these fluids not only protect their teeth, but are also low in calories. As a general rule of thumb, children over 12 months should not drink more than 450ml (15 floz) of milk each day, and milk should be consumed between meals, not with meals. This helps avoid them filling up on milk and missing out on other essential nutrients like iron. Water should be available freely throughout the day – in between meals as well as with meals.

What about fruit juice? Fresh fruit juice, diluted 1 part juice to 10 parts water is suitable as a drink for under-5s at mealtimes only. The acids and sugars even in this small amount of fruit juice can affect dental health if drunk between meals. A 50% dilution (1 part water to 1 part juice) is suitable for children over 5 at mealtimes. Look for fruit juices made from 100% fruit or 100% from concentrate – not ones with added sugar. Often the ones with added sugar call themselves ‘juice drinks’ but you need to check the ‘ingredients’ list to be sure.

What about regular squash? – squashes that contain added sugar or hi-juice / cordial types are high in sugar, even when diluted weakly. These are likely to affect dental health and may cause weight gain, especially if drunk between meals or from a bottle / straw. Sugar will be listed in the ‘ingredients’ list on the back of the bottle. Beware of other names for sugar though, which can confuse the consumer, such as sucrose, glucose, fructose / high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, honey and agave.

The other option, is to use a no-added-sugar squash. Whilst these will often contain some natural sugars from the fruit they’re made from (why they call themselves no ‘added’ sugar rather than ‘sugar free), this would be a better option in terms of sugar and overall calorie intake. However, we must realise that it’s not just the sugar and acid content of juice which could be detrimental to a developing child. It is easy for children to become accustomed to the sweet taste of squashes. This means that in the future, they could refuse water, or crave sweet drinks and foods as they grow into adulthood, potentially increasing their risk of obesity. There is also some evidence to suggest that drinking sugar-free drinks may stimulate the appetite – however research is inconsistent.

What about the sweeteners in no-added-sugar squash? Contrary to what the media portrays and conspiracy theories you might read about sweeteners like aspartame causing cancer and seizures, sweeteners are considered safe. The truth is that sweeteners have to undergo rigorous EU safety testing before being allowed into our foods and drinks. Research shows that sweeteners are perfectly safe to drink on a daily basis as part of a healthy diet. Even the major charity Cancer Research UK says there’s no evidence that artificial sweeteners raise risk of cancer in humans. In December 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carried out another review of the safety of aspartame, finding both aspartame and its breakdown products ‘safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure’. In fact aspartame is actually made from amino acids (the building blocks of proteins already in our bodies).

So if I want to buy a no-added-sugar squash, what types are best? It really comes down to personal preference, but the following statements might give you some pointers:

  • You may wish to avoid squashes containing ‘Southampton six’ colourings – studies have suggested that these colourings have been linked to adverse effects on activity and attention in children. These include Sunset Yellow (E110), Quinoline Yellow (E104), Carmoisine (E122), Allura Red (E129), Tartrazine (E102) and Ponceau 4R (£124). They can be found clearly listed on the ‘ingredients’ list on the back of the bottle
  • Take care using double concentrate options; it’s very easy to put in too much concentrate, resulting in a much sweeter drink
  • There are now new squashes coming onto the market which call themselves ‘water enhancers’. Examples include ‘Stur’ which is made from natural fruit extract and stevia leaf extract (a natural sweetener). Stur claims to be sugar-free, calorie-free and doesn’t contain any artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin or acesulfame K. Another brand is ‘h2wow’, which contains a small amount of agave and stevia, claims to be free from artificial sweeteners and only contains 3 kcal per serving (from the small amount of agave, which is a form of added sugar).

I often get asked what I give my children… it really comes down to your personal choice. If I was to review your child’s diet and fluid intake, I may advise a different option to that of another child. My aim with this blog was simply to present an informed choice to you. Personally I would not give my children squashes/hi-juices containing sugar, but would opt for a no-added-sugar option instead. I also like the water enhancers, although they seem quite pricey. Diluted fruit juices (100% fruit content / from concentrate) and smoothies made from milk / yoghurt and fruit are also an option to consider for mealtimes only, although this option can be expensive too.

The bottom line… If you are going to use a squash, dilute it as much as possible. Consider gradually reducing the dilution further over time – just like if you were trying to wean yourself off sugar in your tea. Eventually it’s likely that your child will accept good-old plain water. After all, water is the best option, and it’s free!

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