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NuVal rates orange juice at 25 but scores an actual orange at 100 at the top of the nutrition rating scale
<p> NuVal rates orange juice at 25 but scores an actual orange at 100, at the top of the nutrition rating scale.</p>

Juggling Juice in Children’s Diets

Supermarket dietitians are using NuVal, store tours and field trips to educate families about juice&rsquo;s role in a balanced diet

Health professionals have long extolled the benefits of 100% fruit juice as a source of phytochemicals that can be used in conjunction with whole fruits to reach one’s daily nutrition goals.

But research suggests that children, who comprise the single largest group of juice consumers, are drinking more juice than is recommended. More than one-third (35%) of parents polled by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott’s Children’s Hospital report that their young children have two or more cups of juice on a typical day, or twice the amount advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in a recent policy statement warned that too much juice in a child’s diet can lead to poor nutrition, obesity and tooth decay.

The problem is particularly pronounced amongst households with annual income below $30,000, with nearly half (49%) of parents reporting their children drink two or more cups of juice per day vs. 23% of parents with income of $100,000 or more.

Related story: The Fight Against Childhood Obesity

To help manage juice intake, the AAP issued daily limits on fruit juice consumption including no fruit juice from birth to 6 months unless used to relieve constipation; 4 to 6 ounces per day for children 6 months to 6 years; and 8 to 12 ounces per day for children 7 years and older.

Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, National

School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, which serve 32 million children per day, will adopt similar limits by July 1, 2014. They include serving no more than half of the fruit or vegetable offerings required per day in the form of juice. Juice must also be 100% full-strength.

At a time when shelf-stable juice sales are down 4% in the food channel, supermarket dietitians are promoting an appropriate balance of fruit and juice.

Related story: Retailers Make Meals Kid Friendly

“Our team of registered dietitians share the AAP’s recommendations on limiting juice consumption with our shoppers without concern for the message’s impact on juice sales,” Karen Buchs, registered dietitian and director of lifestyle initiatives for Weis Markets, Sunbury, Pa., told SN.

With an emphasis on whole fruit being best, Buchs and her colleagues endorse moderate consumption of 100% fruit juice instead of juice with added sweeteners or fruit juice cocktails, since 100% juice has more vitamins and nutrients and fewer additives.

Buchs recommends serving juice in a cup with a snack or meal rather than allowing a child to sip it throughout the day, and if a parent is having a hard time getting their little one to eat, curbing liquids for 30 minutes before meals and snacks.

While the bulk of the message is directed at those making the purchase and mealtime decisions, Weis educates children about healthful choices during its Weis Mystery Tours. The 90-minute field trip program was created by three Weis dietitians to teach 3rd and 4th graders the fundamentals of nutrition.  

“We set up a station in our beverage aisle where we address empty calories in beverages with nothing but sugar, and discuss alternatives like water, [milk] and 100% juice,” said Buchs. During the lesson sugar is added by the spoonful to carbonated beverages to provide a visual of how much sugar these drinks contain.

Getting Fit

Parents who shop at Spartan Stores, Meijer, Kroger or another of the chains participating in the Pure Michigan FIT Program, will also learn about the AAP’s juice advisory.

The nutrition and fitness initiative that focuses on the health needs of children under 5 promotes limiting juice servings to 4 to 6 ounces per day. Currently in the pilot phase of a three-year rollout, Pure Michigan FIT includes retail, health care and fitness components and will address the accessibility of fresh fruits and vegetables by low-income families.

Juice recommendations will be conveyed through pediatricians, in-store dietitians and on the web at

Mott’s for Tots combines 100% fruit juice with purified water.“The long-term plan is to send out collateral that can be handed out in-store and used with [retailers’] existing materials,” said Jennifer Holton, director of communications for the Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development.

Anne Cundiff, a registered dietitian with West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee, takes a different approach. Rather than emphasize limits on juice, she encourages parents to skip it altogether since it promotes a craving for sweets.

Moms and dads should offer their child fruit first, she says, and serve them 4 ounces of juice per day only if they refuse it. So that the child doesn’t develop a craving for sweets, she advocates diluting 2 ounces of juice with 6 ounces of water.

The practice has become popular with moms of small children and juice makers like Mott’s for Tots, which markets premixed versions boasting 40% less sugar than Mott’s 100% apple juice.

After diluting the juice with purified water, Mott’s must refer to the product as a “juice drink” since it’s no longer 100% juice. But unlike versions mixed at home, its drinks are fortified with enough vitamin C to ensure each serving contains 100% of the daily value, noted brand manager Grace Kim.

Juice Innovations

While Mott’s for Tots has been around since 2007, manufacturers continue to innovate in the reduced sugar fruit drink space.

Instead of mixing its 100% apple juice with water, new Tree Top Reduced Sugar Fruit Juice cuts sugar with another fruit juice that is lower in natural sugar: coconut water.

Tree Top uses coconut water to cut the sugar in its 100% juice.The result is a juice that is 10 to 15 grams lower in sugar than 100% grape or apple juice, with benefits like potassium.

“The sugar is naturally reduced using coconut water and that’s considered a fruit juice so it still retains all the vital properties of 100% fruit juice. This is a first,” said Tree Top spokeswoman Sharon Miracle.  

The concept piqued Carrie Taylor’s interest. Taylor is the lead registered dietitian for Big Y’s Eating Well Living Smart program.

She instructs shoppers at the Springfield, Mass.-based chain to seek 100% fruit juice and ignore messages like “no sugar added” since drinks containing artificial sweetener can make this claim. Normally,  “100% fruit juice” and “reduced sugar” messages wouldn’t reside on the same bottle, Taylor explained, since “100% fruit juice” has, up until this point, ensured that nothing had been added — no water for diluting purposes or artificial sweeteners to cut calories. But the composition of Tree Top changes that.

“I can see all the brands jumping on that [idea]” Taylor said. “It’s interesting to think, how do you have 100% juice that is reduced sugar? Oh, because coconut water is considered a juice.”

In addition to containing less sugar, beverages like these are helping make room for more healthful foods.

“When we give kids sugar, even if it’s in a beverage, it encourages them to eat more sweets throughout the day. If we can cut it back with real fruit that actually has fiber in it, they won’t have that craving,” Cundiff said.

To help get the message across to kids, she hosts a NuVal scavenger hunt where youngsters are instructed to compare the nutrition ratings of fruit and juice of the same flavor.

Related story: Retailers Make Meals Kid Friendly

In the case of orange juice, children discover that OJ scores a 25 on the nutrition rating scale that ranks foods from 1 to 100, while an actual orange earns a perfect 100.

“That resonates with kids and they want to eat the fruit over drinking the juice,” Cundiff said.

Big Y’s Taylor makes a similar comparison when educating community members about NuVal by presenting scores for apple juice (15), apple sauce (30) and an apple (96), and explaining that fiber is lost when you strip away the peel, and vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are forfeited after breaking down the actual fruit.

Related story: The Fight Against Childhood Obesity

But at a time when just 1% of adults and 2% of children meet both their fruit and vegetable targets, Taylor is careful not to dissuade shoppers from choosing juice over less beneficial beverages.

“I don’t want anyone to think fruit juice is bad; it’s coming from the fruit,” she said. “We don’t want to make it more confusing, we just want people to meet their fruit goals.”

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