As the focus has switched from fat to sugar as public enemy #1 in the battle against obesity and diabetes, juice - once promoted as a healthy alternative to soda - has been unfairly caught in the crossfire, claim manufacturers.
Diane Welland, MS, RD, is nutrition communications manager at the Juice Products Association, and says she is increasingly being called upon to defend the health credentials of juice as it comes under attack in the public debate over obesity.
“Yes, 100% juice contains sugar, but it has no added sugar, and provides valuable vitamins, minerals and plant compounds like vitamin C, folate, potassium and carotenoids, polyphenols and flavonoids that are not in other drinks,” Welland told FoodNavigator-USA.
“So saying there is no difference between soda and fruit juice is inaccurate and unfair.
“Four ounces of 100% fruit juice is equivalent to half a cup of whole fruit as noted by the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines and in appropriate amounts can be part of a healthy diet.”
Weight of the Nation: Juice has vitamin C, but also contains a “ton of sugar”
Welland’s comments follow our recent interview with pediatric endocrinologist Dr Francine Kaufman, director of the diabetes clinic at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, who rattled a few juice industry feathers when she said: “We should all eat more fruits and vegetables, but fruit juice is really one of the worst things.
"You might as well drink Coke. If you want to do one thing, you should avoid drinking sugar.”
And she is not alone. One memorable scene from part 3 of the 2012 HBO series Weight of the Nation showed teenagers at a weight assessment clinic being shown - via empty bottles packed with sugar - that fruit juice and frappuccinos can be just as sugary as soda.
Juice has vitamin C, but also contains a “ton of sugar”, they were told, before being warned: “If you’re only going to remember one thing from today… stop drinking juice, stop drinking soda.”
Later on, pediatric endocrinologist and well-known sugar scourge Dr Robin Lustig told viewers there is “no difference” between juice and soda: “When you take fruit and squeeze it, you throw the fiber in the garbage. That was the good part of the fruit.”
People that drink 100% fruit juice eat more whole fresh fruit
But even if whole fruit is the better choice, it doesn’t necessarily follow that people will eat more whole fruit if they cut down on juice, noted Welland.
In fact, as juice is a beverage, it is likely to be replaced with other beverages - and these may not necessarily be any more healthful (energy drinks, sports drinks, frappuccinos).
Meanwhile, analysis of NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys) dietary intake data shows that people that drink 100% fruit juice actually eat more whole fresh fruit, and that fruit juice drinkers have better diet quality overall, she said, citing a 2011 study in Nutrition Journal (click HERE ).
“More than 80% of Americans are not meeting the USDA Dietary Recommendations for daily fruit intake, 100% fruit juice can help people meet these recommendations and many medical professionals understand the benefits of consuming 100% fruit juice.”
Asked whether concerns about the sugar content in juice are to blame for the category’s recent lackluster performance, Welland said it was hard to determine, but said juice is now competing with a far broader range of beverage options - many of them less nutritious - than it was 10 years ago.
“Consumers have so many more choices now.”
USDA: The majority of the fruit recommended should come from whole fruits
According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, children aged 2 to 18 years and adults aged 19 to 30 years consume more than half of their fruit intake as juice.
“Although 100% fruit juice can be part of a healthful diet, it lacks dietary fiber and when consumed in excess can contribute extra calories,” say the guidelines, which note that for “most children and adolescents, intake of 100% fruit juice is not associated with body weight”, but urge parents to monitor intakes, especially if their children are overweight or obese.
They add: ”The majority of the fruit recommended should come from whole fruits, including fresh, canned, frozen, and dried forms, rather than from juice.”
NHANES: Teens switching from 100% juice to other beverages
NHANES data shows that the percentage of children drinking 100% fruit juice rose steadily among all age groups up to 2006.
However, this trend started to reverse in the 2007-2010 NHANES data in the 13-17yr age group as teens switched to other beverages. Meanwhile, the average amount of juice that regular juice drinkers consumed also went down.
However, toddlers are still big juice fans, with 63% of three-year-olds categorized as juice drinkers, compared with 38% of 6-12 year olds and just 24% of 13-17 year olds.