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How to choose the best juice box for your kids

Most juice poppers for children have additives and extra sugar, and not all are 100% juice.

girl drinking popper
Last updated: 13 July 2017

This guide will give you advice on what to look for when choosing juice boxes. There's no current review of this product. If you'd like to see a new review, you can request a test.

Coming up with lunchbox ideas day after day, year after year, can take its toll on the imagination. Fruit juice boxes - also known as juice poppers - are one of those convenient items that you can buy in bulk, keep in the cupboard, fridge or freezer, and add it to the lunchbox as a sweet, hydrating treat. It's kind of like fruit in a box. Except, well, it's not.

Is drinking fruit juice good for you?

  • Fruit juice tends to have a healthy image, and 100% juice can give you valuable nutrients such as vitamin C and folate. But it contains all the sugar of fresh fruit - without the fibre.
  • Australian dietary guidelines advise we only occasionally substitute 100% juice for whole fruit as counting towards the recommended two serves a day.
  • A serve of juice is defined as 125mL (half a cup), and most juice boxes in the supermarket contain double this amount.

What is the difference between fruit juice and fruit drink?

  • Don't confuse fruit juice with fruit drinks. Fruit drinks contain minimal juice (generally less than 40%) and have added sugar, and for the most part should have the status of treats only. 
  • When we last reviewed juice boxes one brand we tested contained more than six teaspoons (30.5g) of sugars in a 250mL pack of juice – that's nearly as much as in a 375mL can of Coca Cola (39.8g).
  • Like soft drinks, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks are packed with kilojoules and tend to offer few nutrients. There's mounting evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with an increased risk of weight gain, and that they contribute to dental decay. Drinks that are both sugary and acidic – such as fizzy and energy drinks, as well as fruit juices and fruit drinks – tend to be the worst offenders.
  • If you're after the convenience of a juice box, one with no added sugar is a better option.

What to consider when choosing juice boxes

Size

Juice boxes come in a range of sizes, generally from 125mL to 300mL. A serve of juice is defined as 125mL (half a cup), and most juice boxes contain twice this amount.

Artificial colours

A priority for many parents when choosing food and drinks for their kids is that they're free of artificial additives. The following artificial colours have been red-flagged for kids showing signs of hyperactivity:

  • sunset yellow FCF (additive number 110)
  • quinoline yellow (104)
  • carmoisine (122)
  • allura red AC (129)
  • tartrazine (102)
  • ponceau 4R (124).

In 2007, researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK linked combinations of these colours and the preservative sodium benzoate to increased hyperactivity in some children. Subsequent reviews by the European Food Safety Authority and US Food and Drug Administration concluded that a causal link wasn't substantiated by the available evidence.

Despite this, it's now mandatory in the European Union for food and drinks containing any of these six colours to be labelled with the warning: "May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."

The Australian food regulator FSANZ advises that its 2006 study of added colours found Australian food manufacturers use these colours at much lower levels than those of the Southampton study.

When we last reviewed juice boxes, several brands contained one or more of these colours.

Water is the best drink

The occasional 100% fruit juice is fine, and can add variety to their lunchbox. Choose a small juice box and give your child a bottle of water as well for extra hydration. Or make up your own juice bottle with a 125mL serve of juice, and dilute with water to provide better hydration.

But as any dietitian will tell you, water is the best everyday drink for children - and it doesn't have to cost you anything.

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