You’ve probably heard that soft drinks are bad for your health. Those who indulge in these fizzy beverages are more likely to end up obese with diabetes, heart disease, or both. And while many people have turned to other drinks to satisfy their thirst, some of these alternatives may not be so healthy. A study published online this week took a look at the juices people are drinking in the UK to get a sense of how much sugar might be in the drinks that many consumers consider healthy. Their findings show that drinking juices and other similar drinks may be just as bad for you as the soda they’re replacing.
Why worry about fruit juice?
In looking for an alternative to soda, many adults looked to juice as a similarly sweet but “healthier” alternative. This was especially the case for parents, since kids can be more finicky about what they’re willing to drink, especially if they’re already used to sweet things. But even though fruits have a reputation for being healthy, turning them into juice can sometimes compromise that reputation. There are a few reasons for this. When a fruit is juiced, the juicing process can remove many of the other healthy components, such as fiber, which help to slow the release of sugar during digestion and that add to health factor of the fruit. Without those ingredients, the juice is mostly sugar.
On top of that, the manufacturer may play with the recipe for the juice, changing it from juice to a juice drink or smoothie. In many cases, they concentrate the juice, which boosts the amount of sugar and sweetness factor. They then turn that concentrate back into a drink by adding some water back in, but the end product is often still higher in sugar than the original juice was. Finally, other sweeteners may be added to sweeten the juice even further. These sweeteners are essentially just sugar and can be harmful to health regardless of whether they’re “natural” or not.
How does this affect children?
Children can have serious problems if they start eating lots of sugar early in life. A diet high in sugar can lead to cavities, childhood obesity, and much higher risk for diabetes and other chronic health problems later in life. In the US, nearly one in five children is obese and it’s thought that diet is a major contributor. (See the connection between the food industry and childhood obesity.) Cavities are also a problem and are now seen in almost one out of every two children between ages two to 11. The goal of this study was to see whether juices might be a major source of sugar contributing to the problem of childhood obesity and the rise in tooth decay that has been seen in young children in the UK.
How did the researchers study juice?
The researchers collected 203 fruit juices, fruit drinks, and fruit smoothies that were marketed to children and sold at seven supermarkets in the UK. They looked specifically at drinks that came in a single serving package, like the kind a parent might pack for their child’s breakfast or lunch. The team noted the ingredients in the drinks and looked at how much sugar they contained, how much sugar had been added, and how that overall amount of sugar compared to what was recommended for kids.
More: Top 9 Slimming Smoothies
What did the researchers find?
The drinks included 21 fruit juices, 158 fruit drinks and 24 fruit smoothies. They found that smoothie-type drinks were far and away the worst offenders with an average of almost four teaspoons of sugar per 8 oz. serving. Fruit juice was a close second with more than three teaspoons per 8 oz serving. Even though juice drinks had the lowest amount of sugar on average (about two and a half teaspoons), more than half of fruit drinks had high sugar levels with 85 containing almost 5 teaspoons of sugar. That’s equivalent to the total amount of a sugar a child should get in a single day. In all, two out of three drinks surveyed would give a child half or more of their daily allowance for sugar. The authors note that the nutritional information on many of these packages can be especially confusing even for parents trying to do the right thing since the daily amount of sugar is given for adults, not for children.
How does this affect me?
This study shows that juice and drinks that use juice are often not as healthy as they seem. Even when a drink is 100 percent juice, this study shows it can still be high in sugar in a way that could contribute to tooth decay, weight gain and diabetes in children. Don’t be fooled by smoothie drinks for kids that claim to use natural fruit juices since these are often the highest in sugar and worst for kids and adults. Finally, try to pay attention to the amount of sugar listed on the nutrition label, rather than the percent next to that number. The recommended amount of sugar listed on the label is almost always for adults, not for children, which can cause kids consuming these drinks to quickly end up with way more sugar than they should be getting (about 5 teaspoons or 20 grams per day).