Lately, I have asked a number of parents about their feelings about their children consuming that favorite toddler libation, apple juice. Opinions on the topic naturally vary but the majority opinion on my biased sample is against the apple juice. It is interesting how attitudes have changed; when I was younger, apple juice was looked upon as an acceptable beverage, even when soda would have been restricted. Caffeine was forbidden to children of my era, which explains some of the tendency towards apple juice as the wholesome alternative to soda.
But now, the recommendations are to avoid juice. Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist, says “Juice is just like soda.” His view is probably more extreme than most (he also claims fructose is a dose-dependent toxin.) Nevertheless, he isn’t too far off, juice contains an awful lot of sugar. Twelve ounces of orange juice or apple juice contain about the same amount of calories as a twelve ounce soda. And most of the calories in the juices come from sugar, of course.
There are those who say that the type of sugar matters. HFCS-55, the most common form of high fructose corn sweetener is chemically similar to honey, in that it contains the same fructose/glucose proportion, by design. How does apple juice compare to that? Apples contain a 2 to 1 ratio of fructose/glucose, meaning apples actually contain more fructose than an HFCS sweetened soda. This carries over to the juice, so you can expect that your kid’s apple juice contains quite a bit of fructose. If fructose is a problem, and there is some evidence that it may be, apple juice is to be avoided.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice intake to 4-6 ounces a day for a small child. This is half a cup or half a twelve ounce serving. What’s interesting is that they recommend no more than 8-12 ounces (over two servings) for children over seven. Sounds good, until you realize that it should be the only sweet beverage the child consumes in that day. I think the Academy fails to see the forest through the trees. If the kids drinks a soda, they should not be drinking any juice, and if they drink juice, certainly no soda.
Based on my own personal experience and thirty-year battle with obesity, I would recommend no juice and no soda whatsoever. If that is not possible, then at least the juice and soda should only come out rarely (once or twice a week) and in juice glasses. For those of you who have never seen a real juice glass, the most common mid-20th-century model were 4-6 ounce capacity. There is a serios background element of the food industry pushing outsized (i.e. twelve ounce) portions for both juice and soda.
Final note: In researching this post, two things stuck out to me. The first is that soda is almost unquestionably designed to emulate juice in its sweetness and sugar content. The other was that HFCS is almost certainly designed to emulate honey in sweetness proportion of sugars. If you are adult, you are doing yourself no favor by treating the HFCS as problematic and the juice as perfectly healthful.