While a TV report raised questions about the trace amount of arsenic in apple juice, health officials say there are other reasons parents need to make sure their children are not drinking too much of the beverage.
Brijesh Kumar, a pediatrician with Nathan Littauer Hospital who works primarily at the Perth Primary Care Center, said while apple juice - and other fruit juices - are not necessarily bad for children to have, water is a healthier option.
The reason? Many fruit juices tend to carry a sizeable amount of sugar and calories, nutrition experts said.
Brijesh Kumar, a pediatrician with Nathan Littauer Hospital, looks at the label of a bottle of apple juice on Thursday at the Perth Primary Care Center.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor
Kumar points out the label says the apple juice has been pasteurized. That type of fruit juice is safe from germs that can cause health problems.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor
If a child drinks too much apple juice, the calories and sugar can lead to or abet problems such as obesity and diarrhea, Kumar said.
Kumar said putting apple juice in a bottle or covered cup that allows babies or children to consume it throughout the day could lead to a problem with tooth decay.
While many juices are fortified with vitamins, so they're not just empty calories, that doesn't appease some nutritionists.
"If it wasn't healthy in the first place, adding vitamins doesn't make it into a health food," and if it causes weight gain, it's not a healthy choice, said Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian in New York and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says juice can be part of a healthy diet, but its policy is blunt: "Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit for infants younger than 6 months" and no benefits over whole fruit for older kids.
Sarah Eipp, clinical dietitian at St. Mary's Healthcare in?Amsterdam, said part of the appeal of juice is that it can be had "on the go" more easily than whole fruits. However, fruit juice does not contain the fiber of whole fruit to aid digestion, burn calories and fill up the consumer.
Kids younger than 12 consume 28 percent of all juice and juice drinks, according to the academy. Nationwide, apple juice is second only to orange juice in popularity. Americans slurp 267 ounces of apple juice on average each year, according to the Food Institute's Almanac of Juice Products and the Juice Products Association, a trade group.
Only 17 percent of the apple juice sold in the U.S. is produced here. The rest comes from other countries, mostly China, Argentina, Chile and Brazil, the association says.
Television's Dr. Mehmet Oz made that a key point a few months ago when he raised an alarm - some say a false alarm - over arsenic in apple juice, based on tests his show commissioned by a private lab. The Food and Drug Administration said that its own tests disagreed and that apple juice is safe.
However, after Consumer Reports did its own tests on several juice brands and called along with other consumer groups for stricter standards, the FDA recently said it will examine whether its restrictions on the amount of arsenic allowed in apple juice are stringent enough.
According to the FDA website - www.fda.gov - The FDA's most recent tests done in 2010 and 2011 show, on average, about three parts of arsenic in every one billion parts of apple juice. That is lower than the 10 parts per billion set by EPA as the maximum level allowed in public drinking water.
Michael R. Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, said in a news release that a small percentage of apple juice samples contain higher levels of arsenic. However, the majority of test results have shown apple juice to be safe.
"We are confident in the overall safety of apple juice consumed in this country because we continue to find that apple juice, on average, contains low amounts of arsenic," Taylor said.
However, the website said, the agency will conduct more tests, and after weighing the evidence determine if it needs to set "a guidance or other maximum level to further reduce arsenic in apple juice and juice products."
Some forms of arsenic, such as the type found in pesticides, can be toxic and may pose a cancer risk if consumed at high levels or over a long period of time.
All juice sold in the United States must be safe and meet U.S. standards, said Pat Faison, technical director for the juice association.
"The juice industry is aware that there are different perspectives on what level of arsenic is safe," a news release at the Juice Products Association website - www.fruitjuicefacts.org - said. "It is for precisely this reason that we look to the most qualified, expert, independent and objective third party, the Food and Drug Administration, to make that determination."
As for making good nutrition choices, "a lot of the information that people need about fruit juices is on the label," Faison said.
The association's website says 100 percent fruit juice provides vitamins and minerals such as potassium, vitamin C and folate. One 4-ounce glass of 100 percent fruit juice can provide the equivalent of one serving of fruit.
However, juice tends to contain carbohydrates, mostly sugars, in a much higher concentration than in milk. Juice has a small amount of protein and minerals and lacks the fiber in whole fruit, the pediatrics academy notes.
"Whole fruits are much better for you," said Dr. Frank Greer, a University of Wisconsin, Madison, professor and former head of the pediatrics academy's nutrition committee.
Kumar said when people go to buy juice, they should make sure to check the calories and vitamins on the label.
Another key thing to look for on the label is pasteurized fruit juice, Kumar said. That's the only type safe from germs that can cause serious disease.
Kumar said parents can try switching their children to flavored water. If children still want fruit juice, he said, parents can try watering it down.
Both Kumar and Eipp stressed that, with any fruit juice, parents need to make sure their children are consuming an appropriate amount.
If you or your family drinks juice, here is some advice from nutrition experts:
Don't give juice before 6 months of age, and never put it in bottles or covered cups that allow babies and children to consume it throughout the day, which can cause tooth decay. For the same reason, don't give infants juice at bedtime.
Limit juice to 4 to 6 ounces per day for children ages 1 to 6, and 8 to 12 ounces for those ages 7 to 18.
Encourage kids to eat fruit.
Don't be swayed by healthy-sounding label claims. "No sugar added" doesn't mean it isn't full of naturally occurring sugar. And "cholesterol-free" is silly - only animal products contain cholesterol.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.