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.
1. Nesquick Strawberry Milk
Chocolate milk? Bad but not super bad. Strawberry milk, on the other hand? At 29.59 grams of sugar per eight-ounce glass, this drink packs more sugar than eight Chips Ahoy cookies. Would you let your kid eat eight cookies in one sitting? This is the nutritional equivalent.
2. Kool-Aid Jammers — Blue Raspberry
Yikes! At 25.33 grams of sugar per eight ounces, this packs more sweetness than a full-size Hershey chocolate bar.
3. MinuteMaid Fruit Punch (5 percent juice)
“Boxed drinks can be unsafe. If any air gets into it while packaging, that gives way for mold to grow,” Dr. Verma says. Even with that ick factor aside, this drink is packed full of blood sugar-spiking sweetness.
While these slick foil pouches look cool on the playground, just eight ounces contains more sugar than a Twinkie.
5. Hi-C Orange Lavaburst
The same goes for terms like “Lavaburst” — probably a good bet that it’s not super healthy, and this one certainly isn’t, weighing in at 21 grams of sugar.
6. Hawaiian Punch Berry Limeade Blast
When the word “blast” is in the title, the drink is probably not going to be a nutritional powerhouse. This kids’ drink is packed with 17 grams of high fructose corn syrup-laden carbohydrates.
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