Which is healthier for children: fruit or fruit juice? During Thanksgiving dinner, my niece remarked that she doesn't give her 20-month old son juice because he eats plenty of fruit. My mother-in-law was surprised, saying that she always thought juice was a healthy beverage for children. Who is right?

Researchers at the University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to look at the nutrition differences between drinking juice and eating a piece of fruit. They found that replacing fruit juice with fresh fruit results in consuming an average of 200 fewer calories each day.

The researchers also found that substituting juice with the top three most commonly consumed fruits (banana, apple and orange) resulted in a 25 percent to 32 percent increase in fiber. Americans consume far less fiber than recommended, and replacing juice with fruit can add a significant fiber boost to your diet.

Eating a piece of fruit is more satisfying than drinking juice, partly because it takes longer to eat the fruit and also because liquids are less filling. It takes 3-4 oranges to make 8 ounces of juice, and most of us aren't going to sit down and eat three oranges at one once.

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that too much juice, even 100 percent fruit juice, can lead to poor nutrition, obesity and tooth decay. They recommend avoiding juice completely for children younger than 6 months, 4-6 ounces total per day for children age 1-6 years, and no more than 12 ounces per day for older children.

Here's my recommendation: Offer water or low-fat milk as your child's primary beverage and serve fresh fruit instead of fruit juice. This strategy provides several benefits: your children learn to quench thirst with water, don't fill up on juice, get more fiber from fruit, and learn to enjoy healthy foods. Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food and fitness coach in Manchester and online at www.LynnGrieger.com. Clementines are currently her favorite fruit.