Fruit juice early in children’s lives could lead to a better diet later in life, a study shows

  • A 10-year study of children’s diets showed that moderate 100% fruit juice consumption among children between three and six years of age had a positive impact on their adolescent diet
  • They were 3.8 more times likely to meet dietary guidelines’ whole fruit intake requirement than those who drank less than half a cup of fruit juice a day
  • The study also did not find a link between weight gain and early juice consumption

Fruit juice has had a bad rap in child nutrition circles due to its potential link to childhood weight gain and high sugar content – even 100% fruit juice. 

A new report from Boston University, published in BMC Nutrition, on data from the 10-year Framingham Children’s Study, however, shows evidence that moderate intake of 100% fruit juice by preschool children could lead to healthier diets with proper whole fruit intake in their adolescence. 

The study, conduted by the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute with Boston University, aimed to find out if any eating and exercise behaviours in childhood had any correlation to cardiovascular disease. The study started in 1987 with 100 children, and officially ended in 2001, after the 10 years were extended. 

READ: The GAPS diet promises to health-ify your gut and brain

According to the data focusing on 100% fruit juice – mostly apple and orange juice – children between the ages of three and six who had more than one cup of fruit juice a day, consumed just under one cup per day more total fruit and half a cup per day more whole fruit during adolescence. 

However, the fruit intake of the children who consumed less than half a cup of fruit juice a day sharply declined as they got older. 

They also measured their Healthy Eating Index (HEI) as part of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and found that those with higher fruit juice consumption in preschool years scored on average six points higher on their HEI than those who consumed less. 

They also found no link between 100% fruit juice intake and weight gain.

Limitations of the Farmingham study

There are some limitations to take note of in this study. The 100-children study is a small sample size, and it wasn’t diverse.

All the children came from middle-class families of Caucasian descent. In terms of other factors, only gender was included in the final models. 

In terms of the weight gain analysis, they included more factors like age, maternal education, maternal BMI, physical activity and screen time. 

They also excluded tomato juice and part-juice beverages that weren’t 100% fruit.

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What other studies say

According to current guidelines, they advise no fruit juice for children under one year of age and recommend limiting intake from one to three years old to 118ml a day, and from four to six years to around half a cup. These guidelines came into effect after the conclusion of the study.

They also encourage the consumption of whole fruit over fruit juice as it lacks fibre, has a high caloric count and has been reported to cause tooth decay. 

According to an article in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a meta-analysis of studies, however, found that one serving of fruit juice didn’t have a significant impact on weight in children between one and six years old, and no effect on older children. 

In this case, half a cup of fruit juice equals one fruit serving. While the analysis sees no strong evidence to ban fruit juice in nutrition programmes, it still advises caution regarding high fruit juice intakes. 

In South Africa, four out of five local experts told Parent24 that fruit juice should be the exception and not the rule and served in small quantities, and parents should rather opt for whole fruit. While fruit juice contain micronutrients and antioxidants, they add that its sugar and acidity remain bad for teeth. 

READ: 5 secret healing powers of pineapple

Image credit: Pixabay

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