Should Your Kids Be Juicing?

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Everywhere you look these days, there’s another smoothie or juice bar popping up offering blends of fruits and vegetables in drinkable form. Even the refrigerated aisle at the supermarket is lined with bottles of similar sorts of drinks. They seem like an easy way to pump more fruits and veggies into your daily intake. And why not use the same method to supplement your kids’ diet?

As it turns out, there are pros and cons to letting your kids drink their fruits and vegetables. While there’s no denying that juices and smoothies can be vehicles for sneaking more nutrients into a child’s diet (especially getting greens into a picky eater’s meal plan), there can be downsides to drinking — rather than eating — essential nutrients. Here’s what the experts recommend:

No juice at all before age 2: “For the first couple of years, kids should have just milk and water as sources of liquids,” advises Natasha Burgert, M.D., a pediatrician in Kansas City, Mo. “After that, the American Pediatric Association says 4 ounces or less [of juice] per day, but I don’t recommend it — especially any that contain added sugar or synthetic sugar.”

When in doubt, dilute: “Fresh juices can be a great way to get a number of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants into a child’s diet, but the key is to watch the amount of fruit used,” says Alissa Rumsey, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Since some of the fiber of the fruit is lost when it’s turned into juice, you can easily drink too much sugar. Rumsey suggests cutting juice consumption by diluting it 50/50 with water.

Whole fruits give you more nutritional bang for your buck: “Even when you throw a whole apple into a juicer, it’s not the equivalent of eating an apple,” says Burgert. “By drinking it, you consume it much more quickly, which creates a completely different hormonal surge in the body.”

Sneaky tactics could backfire: “If kids are only consuming kale, spinach, etc. in a smoothie where the taste is masked with something sweet, they aren’t going to develop a taste for it,” warns Burgert. So while you may be able to trick your kids into getting their greens that way, you need to still make an effort to continually introduce them to the real thing at mealtimes.

A smoothie is not a meal: It’s tempting to grab a drink and call it lunch — for yourself or your kids. But consistently replacing meals with liquefied food isn’t smart. “If you see your teen regularly drinking a juice instead of eating, that can be a red flag of body image issues,” says Burgert. On the flip side, some smoothies can pack more calories than you’d expect to eat in a meal, so kids who struggle with weight may be consuming too many unnecessary calories.

But it can be a delicious treat: A smoothie or fresh juice drink should be considered a treat — not an everyday method for consuming fruits and veggies. And, no doubt, it’s a healthier snack than many high-fat, high-sugar options.

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

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