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100% Juice Healthiest Choice for Children
By Gail Rampersaud M.S., R.D., L.D./N.

The juice aisle of the grocery store should be an easy trip for parents looking for healthy drinks for their children. However, shelved right alongside nutritious juices are various fruit "ades," "cocktails," and "drinks" that look healthy, but contain little juice and lots of added sugar. It's important to know how to tell the difference because, while the packaging may look similar, the drinks can differ considerably in nutritional value.

In fact, the USDA includes 100 percent juice as a healthy option to help children meet daily fruit intake recommendations, which is about 1½ cups a day for children age 6 to 11 years. Although you should select whole fruit first, a 6-ounce glass of 100 percent juice counts as half of the recommended amount. The fruit-flavored drinks, however, don't make the grade.

So what do you need to know to help make the right choice? The key is the percentage of pure juice. The percent of fruit juice is the first thing to look for on the label. You want to find a product that specifically says 100 percent fruit juice, like '100 percent orange juice.' That tells you it contains only the natural juice found in whole fruit, along with many of the nutrients found in that fruit.

Some other useful tips to keep in mind when interpreting the nutritional value of juice beverages include:

*Make sure additions don't subtract from the nutritional value. Fortifying a beverage with vitamin C allows manufacturers to state that it provides "100% vitamin C." This claim, however, deflects attention from added sugars and essential nutrients that are missing. By comparison, 100 percent orange juice contains vitamin C and other important nutrients with no added sugar - only the naturally occurring sugars found in fresh fruit.

*Beware of "drinks," "ades," "punches," "cocktails," and other cleverly worded "beverages." These drinks have added sugars, are typically low in nutrients, and don't help fulfill fruit intake recommendations. Keep in mind, the USDA Dietary Guidelines call out only one beverage as a recommended option to help meet fruit intake recommendations - 100 percent fruit juice.

*Read the nutrition facts label to compare nutrients, ingredients, serving size and servings per container.

Among 100 percent fruit juices, orange juice is a nutritional standout. Rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients, 100 percent orange juice is the most nutrient-dense fruit juice commonly consumed in the United States (1). Children of all ages can help increase their intake of critical nutrients by drinking 100 percent orange juice. The nutrients found in orange juice may help promote a healthy immune system, contribute to heart health and may also help protect against certain cancers (2). One hundred percent orange juice can help improve intake of vitamin C, folate, potassium and other nutrients that are essential to a child's diet.

When choosing among fruit beverages for children, remember to start with 100 percent juice. Then, choose power-packed juices to help increase children's intake of essential nutrients and help contribute to an overall healthy diet.

1. McGill CR, et al. "Health Benefits of Citrus Juices". Beverages in Nutrition and Health. New Jersey: Humana Press Inc. 2004.
2. When consumed as part of a healthy diet.

Gail Rampersaud M.S., R.D., L.D./N. is with the
University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

The information presented on this site is intended solely as a general educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical condition and before starting any new treatment.

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