Nutritionists turn sour on apple juice
IT'S true - apple juice can pose a risk to your health. But not necessarily from the trace amounts of arsenic that people are arguing about.
Despite the US government's consideration of new limits on arsenic, nutrition experts say apple juice's real danger is to waistlines and children's teeth. Apple juice has few natural nutrients, lots of calories and, in some cases, more sugar than soda. It trains a child to like very sweet things, displaces better beverages and foods, and adds to the obesity problem, its critics say.
"It's like sugar water," said Judith Stern, a nutrition professor at the University of California, Davis, who has consulted for candy makers as well as for Weight Watchers. "I won't let my 3-year-old grandson drink apple juice."
Many juices are fortified with vitamins, so they're not just empty calories. But that doesn't appease some nutritionists.
"If it wasn't healthy in the first place, adding vitamins doesn't make it into a health food," and if it causes weight gain, it's not a healthy choice, said Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian in New York and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says juice can be part of a healthy diet, but its policy is blunt: "Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit for infants younger than 6 months" and no benefits over whole fruit for older kids.
Kids under 12 consume 28 percent of all juice and juice drinks, according to the academy. Nationwide, apple juice is second only to orange juice in popularity. Americans slurp 7.9 liters of apple juice on average each year, according to the Food Institute's Almanac of Juice Products and the Juice Products Association, a trade group. Lots more is consumed as an ingredient in juice drinks and various foods.
Television's Dr Mehmet Oz made that a key point a few months ago when he raised an alarm - some say a false alarm - over arsenic in apple juice, based on tests his show commissioned by a private lab. The US Food and Drug Administration said that its own tests disagreed and that apple juice is safe.
However, after Consumer Reports did its own tests on several juice brands and called, along with other consumer groups, for stricter standards, the FDA said it will examine whether its restrictions on the amount of arsenic allowed in apple juice are stringent enough.
Some forms of arsenic, such as the type found in pesticides, can be toxic and may pose a cancer risk if consumed at high levels or over a long period.
All juice sold in the United States must be safe and meet US standards, said Pat Faison, technical director for the juice association. As for making good nutrition choices, "a lot of the information that people need about fruit juices is on the label," she said.
So what's on those labels?
Carbohydrates, mostly sugars, in a much higher concentration than in milk. Juice has a small amount of protein and minerals and lacks the fiber in whole fruit, the pediatrics academy notes.
Drinking juice delivers a lot of calories quickly so you don't realize how much you've consumed, whereas you would have to eat a lot of apples to get the same amount, and "you would feel much, much more full from the apples," Ansel said.
If you or your family drinks juice, here is some advice from nutrition experts:
- Choose a juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D-3.
- Don't give juice before 6 months of age.
- Don't give infants juice at bedtime as it can cause tooth decay.
- Limit juice to 120ml to 180ml per day for children ages one to six, and 240ml to 360ml for those ages seven to 18.
- Encourage kids to eat fruit.