The Juice industry has always been booming. In 2018 the top juice distributors in the United States brought in $1.3 billion, which makes sense considering that they collectively spent $20 million on advertising alone, according to CNN. However, according to standard nutritional guidelines, none of the top 30 juice brands sold in America are healthy, and have no nutritional benefits, especially for children.
“I know that parents want their children to be healthy, but the sweetened drink market is just incredibly confusing to parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] is alarmed that children consume so much added sugar. Added sugars increase the risk of many health harms including type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease and childhood obesity. Labels on drinks are confusing and misleading, causing parents to think they are providing their children a healthy drink when in actuality they are not,” said Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and lead author of the AAP policy statement given to CNN analyzing the nutritional value of juice and flavored water.
The confusion lies in the advertising, out of the top 34 juice and flavored water brands in the United States, 85% of them have pictures of fruit on the packaging, while only about 30% of them actually contain some sort of fruit juice in it, (CNN). Packages can also say things like “great source of vitamin C” or “now with less sugar”, simply for adding the smallest amount of vitamins into the beverages or for using artificial sweeteners instead of standard sugar, the market is meant to confuse parents, but arouse a sense of healthiness. Children are also exposed to this advertising as well. Bright colors and fun flavors appeal to the kids while photos of fruit and “NO ADDED SUGARS!! CONTAINS VITAMINS!” type labels appeal to the parents. The reality is, even the beverages that contain vitamins and real fruit juice also have so many other artificial flavorings that it doesn’t even matter.
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) contains the reports to recent studies and research on current popular juice brands and what they found was truly staggering. According to the NLM, one third of all sweetened beverages contain AT LEAST 16 grams of sugar, for a child, that’s more than half of their recommended daily sugar serving. For reference the recommended daily sugar serving for a child is 25 grams, most juice boxes contain 21 grams. Again, a major aspect to this issue is the advertising. Companies can easily get away with disclosing all the artificial sweeteners and sugars added in tiny font on the back of the box, a place you most likely aren’t going to analyze in the middle of the grocery store.
Starting in January, however, the FDA is demanding any beverage company that brings in more than $10 million in revenue annually must disclose any and all added sugars/sweeteners on its labels. However, companies will be able to get around this because a lot of low calorie artificial sweeteners can simply be put in the ingredients label, and most people don’t recognize the complex and long chemical names of these sweeteners.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a research study on beverage choices for children after the FDA regulation was passed and experts began realizing many juice brands can easily get around the new regulations. In the article, the group of Pediatricians listed all alternatives and beverage typed that are necessary for kids aged 0-5 to develop properly.
“All kids 5 and under should avoid drinking flavored milks, toddler formulas, plant-based/non-dairy milks, caffeinated beverages and sugar- and low-calorie sweetened beverages, as these beverages can be big sources of added sugars in young children’s diets and provide no unique nutritional value. Babies under six months only need breast milk and formula. As for juice, it’s best to avoid juice for children under 1, even 100% fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit. That’s because the natural sugars in juice contribute to weight gain and dental decay as much as other sugars. While juice does contain some vitamins and a bit of calcium, the overall lack of protein and fiber make it a poor choice for a healthy drink,” according to the AAP Report.
The two most recommended drinks for children below 5 is water and milk. The best alternative to artificial fruit juices is real fruit juice with no added sugars whatsoever. Even if you manually juice oranges and apples everyday, the nutritional loss from juicing a piece of fruit is pretty hefty, so pediatricians just recommend giving them the fruit itself. This way you know there’s no artificial sugars, just the natural ones, and your child is getting all the nutritional benefits that the fruit has to offer.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.