The Fruit Juice Illusion
Obesity affects 40 percent of adults and 19 percent of children in Canada and accounts for more than 15 billion dollars in health care spending each year. Sugary beverages are thought to be one of the major drivers of the obesity epidemic. These drinks (think soda and sports drinks) are the largest single source of added sugars for Canadians, and contribute, on average, 145 added calories a day to our diets .For these reasons; reducing sugary beverage consumption has been a significant focus of public health intervention. Most efforts have focused on sodas.
But not juice. Juice, for some reason gets a pass. It’s not clear why.
Canadians drink a lot of juice. The average adult drinks 6.6 gallons (over 26 litres) per year. More than half of pre-school age children (ages 2-5) drink juice regularly, a proportion that, unlike sodas, has not budged in recent decades. These children consume on average 10 ounces (300ml) a day, more than twice the amount recommended By the Canadian Association of Pediatric Medicine.
Parents tend to associate juice with healthfulness are unaware of its relationship to weight gain and are reluctant to restrict it in their child’s diet. After all, 100 percent fruit juice—sold in handy individual servings—has been marketed as a natural source of vitamins and calcium. Health Canada guidelines state that up to half of fruit servings can be provided in the form of 100 per cent juice and recommend drinking fortified orange juice for the Vitamin D. Some brands of juice are even marketed to infants.
Government programs designed to provide food for children offer juice in their cafeterias. Researchers have found that children in school lunch programs are more likely to exceed the recommended daily fruit juice limit than those who are similarly poor but not enrolled.
Despite all the marketing and government support, fruit juices contain limited ingredients and tons of sugar. In fact, one 350ml glass of orange juice contains 10 teaspoons of sugar which is roughly the same as a can of coke.
Drinking fruit juice is not the same as eating whole fruit. While eating certain fruits like apples and grapes is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, drinking fruit juice is associated with the opposite. Juices contain more concentrated sugar and calories. They also have less fiber, which makes you feel full. Because juice can be consumed quickly, it is more likely than whole fruit to contribute to excess carbohydrate intake. For example, research has found that adults who drank apple juice before a meal felt hungrier and ate more calories than those who started with an apple instead. Children who drink juice instead of eating fruit may similarly feel less full and may be more likely to snack during the day.
Juice may also be a “gateway beverage”—1 year olds who drank more juice also drank more sugary beverages, including more soda in their school-age years. Children’s excessive consumption of juice has been linked to an increased risk of weight gain, shorter stature and cavities. Even in the absence of weight gain, sugar consumption worsens blood pressure and increases cholesterol.
It’s tempting to minimize the negative contributions of juice to our diets because it’s “natural” or because it contains “vitamins.” Studies that support this view exist, but many are biased and paid for by the companies that actually manufacture the products.
And I doubt very much you would take a multivitamin if it contained 10 teaspoons of sugar.
There is no evidence that juice improves health. It should be treated like other sugary beverages which are fine to have once in a while if you want them, but not because you need them for your health. My grandfather used to say he drank alcohol for “medicinal” purposes. As a child, that always confused me.
Parents should try and give their children water instead of juice and try to increase their intake of whole fruit. Juice should no longer be served in day care centers and schools. Public health efforts should challenge government guidelines that equate juice with whole fruit, because these guidelines most likely fuel the false perception that drinking fruit juice is good for health.
It’s much easier to prevent obesity than it is to reverse it. We need to teach kids how to eat healthier when they’re young so that they develop good habits to carry on for the rest of their lives. In the past decade or so, we have succeeded in recognizing the harms of sugary beverages like soda. We can’t keep pretending that juice is different.