We know it’s important to encourage children to eat healthy foods such as vegetables, fruit, lean meats and healthy fats.
But what should we encourage them to drink?
Fruit juices? Soft drinks? Cordials? Vitamin-style waters?
Flavoured mineral waters? Energy and sports drinks?
5 Reasons Why Children Don’t Need Fruit Juice
Given the wide variety of drinks available, it can be difficult to know which are healthy options and which are not. However, this is important to know because what children drink can greatly affect their health.
The truth is that children do not need any fruit juices or other sweet drinks to have a healthy diet.
So, what should young children drink?
Breastmilk Is The Most Important Drink For Babies
Leading health organisations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for around the first six months and then for solids to be introduced while breastfeeding continues for at least one year.
Breastmilk is the most important drink for children less than one year of age. If a child is not breastfed for the first year of life, then infant formula should be their main drink.
Breastfeeding beyond one year continues to offer a valuable source of nutrition and other important health benefits.
Toddler formula is not necessary for healthy children. Beyond one year of age, water should be the main drink offered. Full-fat cow’s milk in moderation is also a healthy option, especially as it provides essential vitamin D.
For children under one year of age, fruit juices or other sweet drinks are not recommended at all and best avoided after the first birthday.
In fact here are 5 reasons why it’s best to avoid fruit juices and other sweet drinks:
#1: Fruit Juices Can Contribute to Excess Weight Gain
Fruit and vegetable juices contain sugars that are found naturally in fresh fruits and vegetables.
However, these sugars become very concentrated and are laden with calories, when made into juice. As a result, regular intake of sweet drinks may lead to excess weight gain.
#2: Fruit Juices Can Increase The Risk Of Tooth Decay
The acidity of sweet drinks and the frequent consumption of them can increase the risk of tooth decay. Water is the best drink to consume for optimal oral health.
Tooth decay can start even before teeth appear. For example, if toddlers drink anything but water from a bottle (as comfort to go to sleep and/or to snack on during the day), the sugar in the drink can sit on their teeth and gums for quite some time and increase the risk of decay.
Apart from avoiding sweet drinks, using a cup (rather than a bottle) and regular tooth brushing as soon as your child’s first tooth appears can help reduce the risk of tooth decay.
#3: Fruit Juices Can Increase The Risk Of Picky Eating
Since sweet drinks are very calorie dense, they can fill children up and make them less hungry for healthy meals you have lovingly prepared.
Particularly for fussy eaters, avoiding sweet drinks can help encourage children to have a healthier appetite for foods you actually want them to eat.
#4: Fruits Juices Can Increase The Risk Of Diarrhoea
Some children have trouble digesting some of the sugars in sweet drinks. The high concentration of sugars in fruit juices can lead to intestinal upsets, including diarrhoea.
If fruit juices are causing diarrhoea, this may lead to slow growth if energy and nutrients are regularly lost from their body.
#5: Fruit Juices Lack Nutritional Value
Fruit juices should not be considered as a replacement for fruit at any age. Fruit juices made from compressed fruit contain many of the nutrients present in fresh fruit.
However, fruit juices don’t contain the dietary fibre present in fresh fruit. Dietary fibre is important for dietary and cardiovascular health.
So, if you feel your child has been drinking too many sweet drinks, here are some tips to help:
- Role model yourself what you want your children to eat and drink. Avoid having sweet drinks in the house, and regularly drink water
- If your child is very accustomed to sweet drinks, it might help to gradually reduce their intake. This may be by gradually reducing the amount/frequency that’s offered and/or by gradually offering increasingly watered-down versions
- Overall, be patient as it takes time to change your child’s diet.