Juice Box Junkies!

Helping Our Kids Kick the Fruit Juice Habit.

by Cori Young

I get a lot of email each month from parents who are concerned about how much fruit juice their kids are drinking. Some are looking for reassurance, “Is it really that bad, it’s made out of fruit?” Or, “At least they’re getting lots of liquids...”

Others are worried about all the cavities their kids are getting, or because it seems to effect their kids’ behavior, “Is it me, or is this juice making my son hyperactive?” Parents are also concerned because their kids aren’t drinking water anymore. But the most common theme being expressed by these parents is, “My child is addicted to fruit juice!”

Are our toddlers and young children strung out on fruit juice? Fruit juice has become the drink of choice for many children, replacing water and milk. In many cases children start on fruit juice even before they have begun eating solid foods.It certainly seems so.

It’s not all that surprising. Take a look around. Juice is everywhere! We’ve become a culture of juice box junkies. It’s not just at home either. Kids are given juice at daycare and preschools. Many elementary and middle schools offer juice in vending machines.

This is no accident. Juice is being aggressively marketed as a ‘wholesome drink for growing bodies’. It’s the new milk.

Remember when fruit juice was considered a breakfast drink? For as long as I can remember orange juice has been touted as an integral part of a ‘healthy breakfast’. But the idea of drinking fruit juice all day is a new thing. It’s a result of marketing campaigns that target specific age groups.

Juice companies, (many of which are owned by major soft drink corporations,) have packaged fruit juice in convenient child-sized containers with little straws and pictures of children’s favorite cartoon characters. Some even have games and quizzes on the packaging just like cereal boxes.

And it isn’t just orange juice anymore! Today’s kids have a choice between everything from mixed berry to mango-passion fruit .

Many parents are lured in by this convenience, or by the savvy labels promising a full days’ supply of vitamin c. Some fruit juice boxes even claim to contain a complete multi-vitamin in each serving. (Wow! That’s a lot of synthetic vitamins in one day for a child who consumes 3 or 4 juice boxes!)

There are studies being done on the long term effects of growing children consuming so much fruit juice. But we won’t see the results for awhile. And, we can’t deny the fact that juice is big business. It will be interesting to see how these studies are interpreted.

Here’s what we do know: Eight ounces of fruit juice contains nearly 6 teaspoons of sugar. Even though it’s from fructose, a fruit sugar, it still causes the same major increase in insulin levels as refined sugar. Research suggests that this distortion of insulin balance may lead to hormone and neurotransmitter shifts which could increase the risk of ear infections, allergies, and ADHD.

The changes in blood sugar caused by fruit juice consumption can also cause children to crave starches and sweets.

Children who are addicted to fruit juice don’t drink enough water. Young children need 60% more water each day than adults, but kids who habitually drink fruit juice rarely drink water.. .Fruit juice contains no fiber. Many parents worry when their child is constipated and, assuming they need more liquids, offer even more fruit juice. But fruit juice is not filling like fruit, and kids end up drinking more calories than they eat. The World Health Organization estimates that 22 million children under age 5 are overweight or obese.

Not all fruit juices are 100% juice. Some contain high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners as well as artificial colors and preservatives. Many of the pesticides used for growing the fruit are in fruit juice as well, and in concentrated forms.

100% organic fruit juice is still pasteurized and stripped of most of the valuable nutrients and enzymes of fresh juice. What’s left? Sugar!

Simply put, if our children have a fruit juice habit, they have a sugar habit. This could pose a greater risk for yeast overgrowth, allergies, ADHD, diabetes, obesity, and chronic ill health.

What can we do?

Fortunately, with a some mindfulness and persistence there are ways to break the juice habit.

Prevention, of course is the easiest route, but there are also effective ways to wean kids off of juice.

Things to Consider Before a Habit Starts:

Drink water! By far the most vital element to success here is for the whole family to drink water. When babes and toddlers start experimenting with solid foods the first thing they want to do is start eating and drinking what you do. Make it a habit to drink water and to offer children water.

Don’t use plastic cups. I know how radical this sounds. But I have come to see how these cups contribute to kids not wanting to drink water. Why? Because water doesn’t taste good in them. Try drinking plain water out of your child’s sippy cup and see what I mean. Plastic cups taste like plastic - especially to unadulterated taste buds. They also absorb the taste of dish soap. Dishwashers seem to seal in that soapy taste. One reason kids come to want juice instead of water is because the juice tastes better in those plastic cups than water does. It masks the plastic taste.

We’ve really come to rely on plastic cups for babies and toddlers. It’s hard to imagine giving them anything else. But it can be done. I didn’t use plastic cups with either one of my children. I gave them small ceramic cups or small glass jars. As a result they learned to drink without lids and straws. I suggest using the smallest glass canning jars because they don’t break easily. The same is true of most commercial glass jars. I’d save the small jars that capers and artichoke hearts come in and my kids drank out them without a single broken jar.In the car you can offer water bottles with the pull up spouts.

Weaning off of Fruit Juice

This can be a bit trickier. It’s important to understand the forces at work here. We don’t want to enter into power struggles with our kids over this. Especially with younger kids. The developing will of a toddler is every bit as strong as a sugar addiction! With pre-rational children all of the reasoning in the world is completely futile. It’s not our children’s fault that they are strung out on fruit juice. It won’t do any good to make them feel bad for wanting it. Instead, we do better to align ourselves with our children’s needs - to be their ally. One way we do this is by modeling what we expect. In other words, let them see us drinking lots of water. Children are biologically geared to do what ‘their people’ are doing. If everyone is drinking water out of glasses then it’s just a matter of time until your child is also.

Practical Advice for Breaking the Juice Habit

Kids who are used to drinking fruit juice are not going to switch to water overnight. And they don’t need to. What’s important is that they start drinking some water and less juice. It can be very gradual.

You can start by offering water in a non plastic container. No need to insist - just offer it. Do this at times when you know your child is really thirsty, like after hard play. This helps them see that water does taste good when it’s not in plastic.

Offer children fruit. They will be less likely to crave sweet juices, and they’ll be getting lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Stop buying juice boxes. If you buy processed juice, get the frozen concentrates. If you must buy small child size drinks try the new mini bottles of water. Kids can hold them easily and as long as you don’t reuse them or leave them sitting in the sun they don’t taste like plastic.

Very gradually dilute the fruit juice with water to wean their systems off of the sugar.

Herbal Infusions can be a big help in weaning off of juice. Especially if you are drinking them yourself.

Make a routine out of making a nourishing infusion such as nettle and oatstraw every evening. Let children take part if they want. Strain your infusion in the morning and put it in the fridge. You can dilute it with water and sip throughout the day. You can also use it to dilute your child’s juice. The minerals will help stabilize blood sugar, especially chromium. Chromium is also found in foods like brewer’s yeast, meat, cheese, beans, dulse, eggs, mushrooms and potatoes.

Gradually stop buying fruit juice all together. Like other forms of sugar, juice is everywhere. Children will get more than enough of the stuff out in the world. Rather than imposing a ban on all juice consumption, I think our best bet is to not offer at home, and to get into the habit of drinking lots of water. This way fruit juice takes a more appropriate place as an occasional treat, rather than a child’s main source of fluids and calories.

About the author:

Cori Young is an herbalist dedicated to providing information about using foods and herbs to nourish our bodies and regain balance.