The Truth about Juice: Simple Solutions for Cutting Down on the Sugar

Photo courtesy Brian Taylor Photography.

by becca szymkowicz

Juice, an American childhood staple: a sweet way to hydrate finicky eaters who object to the bland flavorlessness of water. We know that water is better, but juice is sometimes just easier. However, you might be surprised by just what’s in your charges’ juice of choice. Kid favorites like Sunny D, Capri Sun, and Hi-C can have more calories and sugar per ounce than regular soda! The American Heart Association recommends that children consume 12 grams or fewer of sugar per day, so even one of these super-sweet drinks could put your charge over his or her recommended daily allowance for sugar.

Too much sugar can cause the dreaded sugar high (followed by equally un-fun sugar crash and accompanying moodiness) and is terrible for children’s and adults’ teeth alike. Some studies indicate that a high-sugar diet can affect attention and ability to learn. While you may be hesitant to worry about caloric intake in healthy growing children, many fruit juices are packed with calories that lack nutritional benefit. Even better options, like 100% real fruit juice, can still be loaded with sugar (for instance, 22 grams of sugar in eight ounces of Tropicana, or 36 grams of sugar in Welch’s 100% grape juice). Getting fruit from juice is better than no fruit at all, but it’s best for kids to eat their fruit whole—it’s less processed and contains natural fiber (and as a result, it’s more satisfying too).

You know that your charges should be drinking primarily water. Try to encourage them to do so, especially with young children who are still developing their preferences. But if you’re working with a determined water-hater, here are some healthier juice-like options to try:

  • Fruit tea. Using caffeine-free herbal fruit teabags, brew a cup, lightly sweeten, and serve either warm or over ice. Try using a natural sweetener, like honey or agave nectar, which give sweetness without the sugar rush that can come with refined sugars (but if calories are a concern, take note: some of these have more calories per teaspoon than sugar). If you sweeten with sugar, it’s still a better option, because you control how much goes in. If this is a hit, try brewing a pitcher of tea with several teabags and keeping it in the fridge.
  • Water it down. One of the simplest ways to cut down on juice consumption is to water down your juice. Try a 50-50, water:juice ratio. Or mix to taste. As the kids get used to a juice that’s less potent, you can water it down further. Just be careful to not let them see you cutting their juice with water to avoid meltdowns.
  • Fruit-infused water. There are lots of recipes out there for fruit-infused water, but the basic idea is to put a cut or muddled fruit of your choice in a jar, fill the jar with water or ice, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The water should be consumed within three days. If your charges like this, try talking to their parents about buying fruit-infusing pitchers (or even water bottles, for when you’re on the go!).

But at the end of the day, if it’s gotta be juice, juice, and nothing but juice, look for juices that are 100% real fruit juice. It should say “100% juice” on the front and on the nutrition information label. Look for “no sugar added” and avoid anything described as a “juice cocktail,” which is really just code for “not real juice.”