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Read This If You Let Your Kids Drink Juice

Photograph by Twenty20

You might think giving your kids juice as babies or toddlers is healthy—or even harmless—but as it turns out, there's more to the decision of letting your kids have juice than you might think.

The American Academy of Pediatrics previously recommended that babies 6 months old and younger not be given 100 percent fruit juice, but for the first time since 2001, they've updated the guidelines on kids drinking fruit juice to extend that six months to a full year.

The group says 100 percent fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits to babies, and could potentially be detrimental because it can't take the place of the nutrition babies receive from breast milk or infant formula. Even when it's 100 percent juice, it's still not as healthy as some parents think.

If your child is going to consume fruit, it should be whole fruit rather than juice because at least the fiber in a piece of whole fruit helps make it healthier and keep your kid feeling full, experts say. To put that in perspective, a half-cup of apple slices has half the calories and sugar of four ounces of juice. That makes store-bought juice as bad as soda.

In the new guidelines, the AAP advises kids ages 1-3 should be restricted to four ounces of juice per day, and kids ages 4-6 shouldn't have more than six ounces.

But there is some good news.

Lots of parents decide not to give their kids fruit juice because of fears that it could contribute to the risk of childhood obesity. But so long as they're not drinking more than a serving per day—appropriate to their age guidelines—it's OK to give your kids juice, researchers found.

When it comes to children older than one year of age, an analysis published in the journal Pediatrics published in March also looked at eight different studies about the association between regularly drinking a 6- to 8-ounce daily serving of 100 percent fruit juice and weight gain, and found no significant link with childhood obesity.

The eight studies gathered data for nearly 34,500 boys and girls under the age of 18. For kids ages 1 to 6, there was a very small change in BMI, but not significant enough to cause obesity. For kids ages 7 to 18, there was no link at all between drinking 100 percent fruit juice and weight gain. (The new AAP guidelines reduce the serving size for kids ages 7 to 18 to eight ounces rather than 12 ounces.)

Dr. Brandon J. Auerbach, acting instructor in medicine at the University of Washington and the lead author of the study that tracked kids' weight and juice drinking habits, told The New York Times that "fruit juice in moderation, not more than a serving a day, is safe" for kids.

However, it's important to note that this means you really have to read the labels to be sure you're buying your kids 100 percent fruit juice. And just because it might say "natural" on the label, that doesn't mean it's 100 percent fruit juice. In the end, if you have any doubts, good old-fashioned water is always best to keep your kids hydrated, if you're worried about their sugar intake.

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