It’s somewhat fashionable to dismiss juice as a sugary beverage with little nutrition value — but science emphatically refutes this position. More evidence has come out validating 100% fruit juice’s valuable role in supporting children’s nutrition.

comprehensive review of data from the NHANES survey found that toddlers who drank juice enjoyed three times the intake of vitamin C compared to non-juice drinkers — plus 39% higher potassium and 14% more magnesium. Non-juice drinking kids 2-18 years of age were more likely to be deficient in vitamins A and C, as well as folate and calcium. Nor is juice drinking and fruit consumption an “either or” proposition: New research suggests 100% fruit juice drinkers are more likely to eat whole fruit. Indeed, young juice drinkers also consume more fiber and less added sugar overall! Concludes study co-author Dr. Carol O’Neil of Louisiana State University: “100% fruit juice…supplies important nutrients during a key period of growth and development.”

Previous research shows that juice drinking does not predispose kids to obesity. In fact, 2-3-year-olds who drank the most 100% juice were three times less likely to be overweight, according to one study. Despite sugar content, fruit juice metabolizes differently than soda thanks to its natural antioxidants. Different juice varieties offer targeted health benefits — so try experimenting with tomato, pineapple, grapefruit, grape, apple and pomegranate juice.

Bottom Line: With half of kids consuming no fruit on any given day and courting many nutrient deficiencies, 100% juice provides a convenient and palatable way for children to meet their nutrition needs. Just be sure to keep the portions in check.

 Published October 1, 2010