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Less juice, more milk and water: Health organizations provide new beverage guidelines for young children

Four leading health organizations issued new, stricter recommendations for what children under five should be drinking in order to

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For children under five, health and nutrition experts can count their recommended drinks on one hand.

Just four beverages — breast milk, infant formula, plain milk and/or water — are suggested. Anything with added sugar, like sports drinks or juice, are not.

Megan Rodgers, a registered dietitian at the Knox County Health Department, said those guidelines help make sure kids are healthy.

"Milk is very important for growth and development of children. It's a source of calcium and vitamin D and can help build strong bones," she said. "It's also a source of protein for children."

The new report "Healthy Beverage Consumption in Early Childhood" outlines the benefits of drinking milk at different ages. Drinking flavored or plant-based milks, however, were not recommended.

Experts from four leading health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association, said plant-based milks do not offer the nutritional value of regular pasteurized milk. 

Juice and flavored milks contain too much sugar and not enough nutritional benefit for growing kids.

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"It is such a great source of sugar in a child's diet and really excess calories," Rodgers said. "They can lead to many problems such as obesity or later adult problems in life as well."

Instead, Rodgers recommended parents feed their children whole fruit instead of letting them drink juice.

"A child's actually getting some fiber from that and not as much sugar," she said. "It's important that we're encouraging children to consume whole fruits and vegetables."

However, nutritionists are not saying most kids can't enjoy something sweet every now and again -- just to consider options like whole fruits, or look for more wholesome sweet drinks like 100% juices if you do and limit how much you let your kids have.