WIC offers 100% juice as part of the standard food package. 100% juice means that the sugar comes only from fruit, instead of added table sugar like you would find in fruit juice cocktails, or Gatorade, etc. Added table sugar is unhealthy because it offers many extra calories with no nutritional value. This can make it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.
It may seem like 100% juice is healthier than juice with added sugars, and in a way, that would be correct. The sugar only comes from the fruit the juice is made of, so it has more healthy vitamins. However, it takes multiple pieces of fruit to make one cup of juice. When the juice is made, important nutrients like fiber are removed. Fiber helps foods digest slowly, causing you to feel full for longer, and keeping your blood sugar in check. Without this fiber, juice does not fill you up as much as an actual piece of fruit does, and it will cause your blood sugar to spike and fall quickly, which can lead to the proverbial "sugar crash".
Did you know...
The American Heart Association recommends that children consume no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugars daily (see the link below). For reference, 4 ounces of Gatorade has 6-7 grams of sugar (34 grams for a whole 20 ounce bottle), 4 ounces of Yoplait Trix yogurt contains 11 grams of added sugar, and Capri Sun Fruit Punch has 13 grams of sugar.
So now what?
You may wonder why WIC offers juice in your food package if the amount of sugar in it is unhealthy. This is a great question, and as nutritionists, we encourage you to choose fresh pieces of fruits instead of juice. However, since juice is included in the standard WIC benefits, there are a couple of ways it can fit into a healthy diet.
Limit the amount of juice you and your children drink. Children ages 1-4 should have no more than 4oz of juice per day. Children ages 4-6 should have no more than 6oz of juice per day, and adults should have no more than 8oz per day.
Dilute the juice with water. (We recommend diluting the juice by at least half.) Since full strength juice is very sweet, it can cause picky eating if a child prefers the sugary flavor over healthier, less sweet foods that you offer for meals. Adding water will also allow you to offer a similar volume of fluids without all the sugar, and it can also be a way to sneak extra water into your child's diet.
What about sugar-free juice?
Since 100% juice and drinks like regular Gatorade or Capri Sun are full of unhealthy sugars, it may be tempting to buy drinks that are labeled "sugar-free" or "zero sugar". This seems like a logical solution, however, these are usually code words for fake sugars.
The reason you want to be careful with fake sugars is these chemicals have not been around long enough for us to know how they effect our bodies in the long run, and some studies suggest that they have a negative impact on our health. Ultimately, it is best to choose 100% juice and limit the amount you drink each day. If a drink says that it has no sugar, but it still tastes sweet, it most likely contains fake sugars. Look for labels that say "no sugar added" instead.
Take a look at the list below for the ingredients to watch out for, and read the nutrition labels on your drinks to see if they contain any of these fake sugars:
aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
saccharin (Sweet N' Low)
Acesulfame-potassium (aka. Ace-K) (Sunett and Sweet One)
The Take Away:
100% juice is your healthiest option if you are going to have a sweet beverage.
Limit the amount of 100% juice you drink (4oz for children, up to 8oz for adults)
Dilute juice with water by at least half to cut down on the sugar content.
Avoid fake sugars like aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and Ace-K.
Read the nutrition labels on your drinks - look for "no sugar added", and avoid "sugar-free" or "zero sugar".