Juice gets the squeeze
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
Some people consider it a health food, but others think of it as simply pop in disguise.
That virtuous glass of juice is coming under fire as doctors, scientists and public health authorities step up their efforts to reduce the nation’s girth.
It’s an awkward problem for the schools that peddle juice in their cafeterias and vending machines. It’s uncomfortable for advocates of a junk food tax who say they can’t afford to target juice and alienate its legions of fans. It’s confusing for consumers who think they’re doing something good when they chug their morning OJ, sip a smoothie or pack a carton of apple juice in their child’s lunchbox.
The inconvenient truth is that 100 percent fruit juice poses the same obesity-related health risks as Coke, Pepsi and other beverages.
With so much focus on the major role that sugary drinks play in the country’s collective weight gain — and the accompanying rise in conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer — it’s time, some experts say, that juice was stripped of its wholesome image.
“It’s pretty much the same as sugar water,” said Dr. Charles Billington, an appetite researcher at the University of Minnesota. In the modern diet, he said, “there’s no need for any juice at all.”
A glass of juice concentrates all the sugar from multiple pieces of fruit. Ounce per ounce, it contains more calories than soft drinks, although it tends to be consumed in smaller servings. A cup of orange juice has 112 calories, apple juice has 114 calories and grape juice has 152 calories, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The same amount of Coke has 97 calories, and Pepsi has 100.
And as with soft drinks, juice is rich in fructose — the simple sugar that does the most to make food sweet.
University of California, Davis scientist Kimber Stanhope has found that consuming high levels of fructose increases risk factors for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes because it is converted into fat by the liver more readily than glucose. Her studies suggest that it doesn’t matter if the fructose comes from pop or juice.
“Both are going to promote equal weight gain,”she said,adding that she was perplexed by the fixation on the evils of sugarsweetened beverages: “Why are they the only culprit?”
The Juice Products Association emphasizes the value of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in juice — especially when so many Americans eat so little fresh produce.
“If someone can add a glass of fruit juice at breakfast, that’s an important addition to the diet,” said Sarah Wally, a dietitian for the trade group.
Researchers haven’t published head-to-head comparisons of how juice and pop contribute to weight gain. But there is evidence that high juice consumption increases the risk of becoming overweight or obese, especially among children.
One of the earliest studies, in 1997, examined 168 preschoolage children in upstate New York. Those who drank at least 12 ounces of juice a day were 3½ times more likely than other kids to exceed the 90th percentile for body mass index, qualifying them as overweight or obese.
A 2006 study of 971 lowincome youngsters found that each extra glass of juice a day caused children who were already overweight or obese to gain an extra pound each year.
The link between juice and weight gain, however, isn’t always found. In a 2008 review of 21 studies, six supported the connection, and 15 did not.
The government’s 2005 dietary guidelines recognize that juices can be good sources of potassium but recommend whole fruit for the majority of daily fruit servings to ensure adequate intake of fiber.
In October, the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children introduced vouchers for fresh produce and reduced the juice allowance. Billington and his colleagues in the Minnesota Medical Association had been pushing for the change since 2006.
“Having apple juice and eating an apple are not the same,” he said.
The nectar of fruits poses the same obesity- related health risks as soft drinks, critics say.