While you might be aware just how sugary sodas are bad for your — and your kids' — health, you might not know that some fruit-flavored children's drinks — and juices — can have just as much sugar as soda, and be nearly as nutritionally empty. Many of these syrupy beverages are no more than glorified sugar-water, but they're pitched to well-meaning moms as healthy, fun choices for kids.
One of our biggest surprise offenders was apple juice. This childhood classic is actually not great for children's health, as it turns out. "Boxed apple juice contains a lot of sugar, and can be just as bad as drinking soda," Dr. Deepa Verma tells us. "Apple juice has few natural ingredients and contains way too much sugar. It is possibly one of the worst juices to give your child and is responsible for a lot of dental decay and obesity in children."
When considering the most over-sweetened kids' drinks, we limited ourselves to uncarbonated beverages that are clearly marketed to children. So while kids might be drinking some of the super-sweetened versions of Arizona iced teas or guzzling down Dr. Pepper, they don't get advertised as kid-specific products, so we eliminated them for inclusion in our list. Some of these drinks are even hawked by kids' favorite characters like Sesame Street's Big Bird. What could be more wholesome? For starters, the contents of the sweet treat inside. First, we adjusted all of the nutritional content to an eight-ounce model, so that we were comparing apples to, well, apple juice. Next we ranked the drinks based on sugar content, with preference for drinks containing some nutritional content to corn syrup-laden sugary treats like CapriSun.
We also asked Sarah Berneche, a final-year natural nutrition student at the Canadian School for Natural Nutrition, for her opinion on the juice-box phenomenon.
"To be honest, I'm not big on juice, period," she said. "Fructose spikes blood sugar; whole fruit is a better alternative because the fiber slows down that spike and keeps levels even. A smoothie that incorporates some fruit (particularly low sugar ones such as berries, cherries, apples, lemon juice) and some vegetables (spinach, kale, etc) is a good option. Otherwise, unsweetened coconut water is great — it's nature's Gatorade, hydrates while supplying the body with vitamin C, and contains very few calories, about 35 per cup. A glass of coconut water usually has about eight to 12 grams of sugar per serving, as opposed to the 20 grams or more in fruit juices, which, to put it into perspective, is equivalent to a chocolate bar."
Does that mean kids should never get to indulge in something more tasty than healthy? Of course not: special occasions call for special delights. But we'd recommend a small glass of whole milk mixed with a little cocoa powder and honey — definitely tasty, but not super decadent – over a box of reconstituted juice product mixed with liquid corn any day of the week.