The school year is underway, and many parents see no better way to prepare their children for a taxing day of learning than with a large glass of sunshine, also known as orange juice.
Not so fast, say nutritionists and obesity experts.
That glass of juice — even if it's 100 percent fruit juice — is loaded with unnecessary calories.
"Most parents give their kids fruit juice because of the perception that it's healthy," says Nazrat Mirza, pediatrician and co-director of the Obesity Institute at Children's National Medical Center. "I don't know where that perception came from," she says.
It's true that many juices — particularly orange juice — are fortified with calcium and have a healthful amount of Vitamin C. "But you are getting those vitamins at a high calorie cost," Mirza says.
In fact, if you ate an orange at 60 calories and drank an eight-ounce glass of water you'd be much better off than if you drank one eight-ounce glass of orange juice at about 120 calories, she says.
In addition to being a lower-calorie alternative, the whole fruit and glass of water also are a treat for your digestive system.
"With the whole fruit you are getting fiber and bulk, which makes you feel full — and it keeps things moving," says Kathy Glazer, a Washington area dietician. "Most people, including kids, don't get enough fiber. Whole fruit is packed with fiber."
So if you drink fruit juice or another high-calorie drink, you'll miss out on that feeling of fullness, or satiation, and start looking for something to eat. In other words, you are drinking juice in addition to your normal food intake — not instead of it.
"You register calories differently when you drink them rather than eat them," says Kristen Ciuba, a Washington nutritionist and health coach. "Many people get a third of their total daily calories from sweetened and caloric drinks."