Fruit Juices and Smoothies are Not as Good as We Think

The next time you provide your kids a healthy smoothie rather than a soda, you may need to keep in mind that it could consist of up to 13 g/100 ml, equal to about 2.5 tsps in a 3.5-oz serving, or roughly two-thirds to a half of a child’s suggested daily sugar

A new study, presented in the online journal BMJ Open, states that the sugar content of fruit beverages, natural juices and smoothies, in specific, is unacceptably high.

According to Yale Health, the average American takes about 22 tsps of added sugar daily; for teens, the figure is nearer to 34. One 12-oz can of soda consists of 10 tsps of sugar.

The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests only 3-4 tsps of sugar a day for kids and 5 tsps for teens.

In the UK, guidelines suggest a maximum of 19g, or just below 4 tsps for kids aged 4-6 years, and 24 g at age 7-10 years, or just below 5 tsps, as per the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

As awareness spreads about the effect of sugary drinks on weight gain and cavities, many individuals are switching to fruit juices and smoothies as a healthy alternative to sodas, iced tea and other favorites.

Even 100 percent juice is not guilt free

Even 100% fruit juice is not as harmless as it seems. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest not providing juice to babies under 6 months, and kids aged 1-6 should have no greater than 4-6 oz, or one half to three quarters of a cup. The suggested amount for 7-18 year-olds is 8-12 oz, or 1-2 cups.

Investigators from the University of Liverpool and the University of London in the UK evaluated the sugar content per 100 ml (roughly 3.5 oz) of fruit juice drinks, 100% natural juices, and smoothies targeted at kids, using information from the pack label.

They examined the quantity of “free” sugars in 203 standard portion sizes (200 ml, or around 7 oz) of UK-branded and store-brand products.

Free sugars comprise of glucose, fructose, sucrose and table sugar, which are added by the producer, along with naturally occurring sugars in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. Even though fructose develops naturally in fruit, when absorbed as a drink, it can trigger dental caries – as can any other sugar.

There are other naturally developing sugars in entire fruits and vegetables, which the body metabolizes diversely, and they act to control energy intake. These were not included.

Over 40% of drinks consist of 4 tsps of sugar

The sugar content in the drinks surveyed varied from 0-16 g/100 ml, and the average was 7 g/100 ml, or about 1.5 tsps. It was considerably greater in pure fruit juices and smoothies.

The average sugar content of the 21 pure fruit juices evaluated in the survey was as much as 10.7 g/100 ml or just over 2 tsps, and in the 24 smoothies, it was approximately 13 g/100 ml, or just above 2.5 tsps. Over 40% of all the products, contained 19 g, or about 4 tsps, of free sugars, the maximum daily amount suggested for kids.

About 78 products consisted of zero-calorie sweeteners, like as aspartame. While considered as safe, health experts say they are not aiding children’s taste buds to get used to a less sweet diet.

Based on the results, the team suggests:

  • Not counting fruit juices, juice beverages and smoothies with a higher free sugar content as one of the “5 a day”
  • Taking fruit whole, not as juice
  • Diluting fruit juice with water or opting for unsweetened juices, and permitting these only while in meals
  • Restricting consumption to 150 ml/day, or just over 5 oz
  • Requiring companies to stop adding needless sugars to fruit drinks, juices and smoothies, if essential, through government intervention.

Commenting on their findings lead author said,

“No. Fruit is really good for the health. Vegetables likewise. Certainly, we would suggest unlimited fruit and vegetables.”

Whole fruit has greater fiber content than juice, it requires longer to eat, it is more fulfilling, and there is proof that the body metabolizes whole fruit in a various way, adjusting its energy consumption more properly than it does after drinking juice.

A restriction of the research was that investigators only looked at products that are accessible in supermarkets, and there may be alternatives with lower sugar content.