NUTRITION: ‘Juice drinks’ aren’t what they seem

By: SONA PARMAR MUKHERJEE

You look at the carton and it’s covered with fruit — not just any old fruit, but succulent, vibrant, health-giving fruit. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that what’s in the carton contains significant amounts of juice from that very fruit. Not always.

Whereas the label ‘fruit juice’ is generally reserved for beverages that are 100 per cent pure fruit juice, ‘fruit drinks’ or ‘juice drinks’ are often no more than flavoured water that’s been artificially coloured and packed with added sugars.

In many cases, these supposedly healthy alternatives to fizzy drinks consist of no more than five per cent juice.

Whilst the term ‘juice drink’ is perfectly legal, for parents this description downright misleading, implying that these drinks are actually a healthy choice for children.

In fact, the words ‘flavour’ and ‘flavoured’ make things even more confusing. The word ‘flavour’, as in ‘strawberry flavour’, means that there is no strawberry in the product whatsoever!

What about the word ‘flavoured’? Well, then you can you be sure that some of the named fruit is in the product – but it doesn’t have to be very much.

As one consumer watchdog found, some products can contain as little as 0.5 per cent strawberry powder and still claim to be ‘strawberry flavoured’.

WORST INGREDIENT

Probably the worst ingredient in many juice drinks is high-fructose corn syrup.

High-fructose corn syrup is a substance that’s made by changing the sugar (glucose) in cornstarch to fructose (another form of sugar), and because it extends the shelf life of processed foods and is cheaper than sugar, is a commonly used sweetener.

So, what’s the problem? Aside from the fact that this kind of sugar is highly addictive (it’s the reason children crave certain sweetened foods and drinks), your body will convert high fructose corn syrup into fat more rapidly than any other sugar.

In the case of juice drinks, since the fructose consumed is in liquid form, the negative effects are significantly magnified.

Elevated ‘bad’ cholesterol and triglycerides, diabetes and weight gain are just a few of the adverse effects.

Many parents then turn to pure 100 per cent fruit juice, which is without question, better than the juice drinks. But that doesn’t mean that children should be drinking lots of it either.

Fruit juice actually bears only a passing relationship to fruit — a lot of the fruit’s nutritious goodness is left behind during the juicing process.

Juicing also makes the sugar in fruit more accessible to the body — the sugar concentration of fruit juice is very similar to sugary fizzy drinks (even though many juices commonly have ‘no added sugar’ printed on their labels, these beverages still contain large amounts of naturally occurring sugars).

Of course, fruit juices (and fruit drinks for that matter) aren’t in the same nutritional league as fizzy drinks, but the fact that they’re so sugary means they can cause problems. For example, the sugary, acidic nature of juice makes too much of it dangerous for healthy teeth.

Children, therefore, should consume juice with some caution (a glass a day at the very most, ideally at mealtimes to minimize the risk to teeth).

One way to wean them off is to dilute it with as much water as possible.

And that brings me to the best drink for children (and adults): water. It’s not cool, it won’t make you popular, but it’s the very best thing you and your family should be drinking.