Aside from children 2-8 years of age, no other age group consumes sufficient fruit to meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). Why? Fruits are sweet, plentiful, convenient, diverse in flavors and textures, and available in many different forms. Why are Americans still falling short, despite decades of encouragement?
Many cite the cost, the lack of availability, or the poor quality of fresh fruit in their local stores. Parents may worry about fruit going bad and being wasted. As much as one-quarter of purchased fresh fruit is thrown out. But the DGA reminds us that fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and that they may be whole, cut up, pureed, or even juiced, and still offer the benefits of fruit. Juice is a simple way to add a fruit serving every day. Juicing retains the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that are so important for nutrition and health.
Ironically, the sweetness of 100% fruit juice may work against its consumption. Sweetness and especially sweetened drinks are often equated with obesity and its health complications in the media. Some believe that early life exposure to fruit juices encourages later intake of other sweetened drinks. Others assume that every serving of fruit juice displaces a serving of whole fruit, losing out on much needed fiber. These perspectives have proved to be more speculation than science.
We have solid studies on 100% fruit juice and child obesity. Two well-designed meta-analyses (available here and here) looked at whether consumption of 100% fruit juice was associated with rising BMI among children. Neither found evidence to support the hypothesis. Another meta-analysis looked at 100% fruit juice intake and risk factors for chronic disease (cardio-vascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, etc.) among children and adults and found no association. The preponderance of available evidence shows that 100% fruit juice is associated with better diet quality as well as the consumption of more total and whole fruit than in non-consumers.
One of the most interesting recent studies was data from the long-running Framingham Children’s Study. The investigators followed 100 children starting at 3– 6 years of age and evaluated them annually for the next 10 years, using three-day dietary records.
Preschoolers who drank more than 1.0 cup of 100% fruit juice/day consumed 0.9 cups/ day more total fruit (p < 0.0001) and 0.5 cups/day more whole fruit (p < 0.0001) during their adolescent years. Their diet quality scores (HEI, Healthy Eating Index) during adolescence were almost 6 points higher than those with the lowest fruit juice intakes.
Preschoolers consuming less than 0.5 cups/day of fruit juice had sharply declining whole fruit intake throughout childhood compared with those preschoolers consuming ≥1.0 cups/day, who maintained stable fruit intakes into adolescence. Children who consumed more than 0.75 cups/ day of fruit juice during preschool were 3.8 times more likely to meet the DGA recommendations for whole fruit intake during adolescence than low consumers. The investigators found no association between 100% fruit juice consumption and high BMI in adolescence. The authors speculated that early exposure to the flavors of fruits through exposure to juice increases the likelihood of whole fruit consumption as the child ages.
Including 100% fruit juice every day is a simple way to increase fruit intake and help meet DGA recommendations. The inclusion of fruit juice improves the quality of a child’s diet, not only by providing vitamins and minerals but also by providing a wide array of bioactive phytonutrients. Fruit juice augments, rather than displaces, whole fruit. Juices are inexpensive, shelf stable, convenient, well-accepted, and widely available. Juices provide a nutritious building block that helps parents improve the quality of their child’s nutrition at meals and snacks.
Murray, RD (2019): 100% Fruit Juice in Child and Adolescent Dietary
Patterns, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2019.1615013 https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2019.1615013
MyPlate: All about the fruit group. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/fruits
Wan Li, Jakkilinki PD, Singer MR, Bradlee ML, Moore, LL. Effects of 100% fruit juice (FJ) consumption on diet quality and BMI in children: a longitudinal study. BMC Nutrition (2020) 6:25 https://doi.org/10.1186/s40795-020-00347-6