Fruits are an important part of eating a balanced meal. However, more and more parents think that packaged fruit juices and drinks are a substitute for fruits. These packaged products are blanketing the market with advertisements and are finding their way into our homes very quickly. It is important that parents understand all the facts surrounding these products before making them a part of your child's diet.
Packaged fruit juices
- Does the packaged juice you buy contain 100% fruit juice or is it less? Check what you are buying before you buy.
- A number of packaged juices contain added sugars and sweeteners. These make them more liked by children but the extra sugars can contribute to childhood obesity and infantile diabetes. Diabetes is a very common illness in India. Once a child develops a taste for extra-sweet packaged juices, it is hard for them to accept less sweet but natural juices.
- Most juices contain Vitamin C, and some contain added fortifiers like calcium, Vitamin A and Vitamin C and this can beneficial for children. However, juice with fortified calcium is not a replacement for milk. Milk contains a number of other ingredients that are good for children. Fruit juices must not be used as a substitute for milk1.
- Packaged fruit juices contain none of the natural fibres that are in fruit, unless they contain pulp also. Fibre is an important part of children's diets as it improves digestion
- The act of washing, peeling, biting and chewing fruit teaches our children important physical skills. They young fingers learn how to be flexible and their mouth learns how to mash food before swallowing it. By taking longer to consume the same amount of calories, it reduces overconsumption and keeps them healthy.
- Behaviourally, eating a whole fruit helps children combat the need for "instant gratification". Instant gratification is the need to get satisfaction immediately and always. While poking open a fruit juice container seems efficient, we are teaching our kids that happiness comes out of a package
- Paediatricians worldwide recommend that children should eat whole fruits. As parents you should lead by example and eat whole fruits yourself.
- Make fresh fruit juice by blending the fruit with milk in your mixie. Do not add sugar or strain the pulp out (unless its for babies who may choke). This can also be stored for some time in the refrigerator and is a far healthier alternative to packaged fruit juices.
- If your children do not drink fresh fruit juice from a glass, buy some kulfi moulds and freeze the juice. You can serve it to them on plate or put a stick in it so they can hold it and lick it.
- Paediatricians recommend that juices must not be introduced into infant diets till they are 6 months old1,2
- Packaged fruit juices, if bought correctly, do help our children's hydration as they contain a lot of water
Packaged fruit drinks
- These are packaged products that have a fruit sounding name or a fruity logo, but seldom contain 100% fruit juice.
- They are almost always made with artificial flavours, added synthetic sugars
- They may also be aerated/carbonated
- Paediatricians worldwide frown on these products as bad for the long-term health of our children
Parents often think that packaged fruit juices and drinks have the same benefits as fruits and feed them to their children. Often there is also overconsumption as no limit is set on what is perceived to be a healthy source of nutrition. Unfortunately, the truth may be far from it. Check what you are buying, teach your children about healthy eating and set an example yourself by eating natural fruits and drinking fresh fruit juices. Help them develop healthy eating habits early in life and gift them a healthy adulthood also.
1. Hema Gupta and Piyush Gupta, "Viewpoint - Fruit Drinks: How Healthy and Safe", Indian Pediatrics 2008; 45: 215-217
2. "The Use and Misuse of Fruit Juice in Pediatrics", American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, May 2001. Reaffirmed in February 2007