Obesity is a growing concern for food manufacturers. As the size of the average Australian waistline continues to expand, everything from salt intake, fat content and sugar have been under scrutiny, forcing businesses to develop healthier alternatives.
Mainstream media has bombarded the public with new findings of what we should and shouldn’t eat, what new superfood will prevent cancer and why we need every type of fortified vitamin under the sun, just to function.
But has the public actually lost touch of what we should be eating? It wouldn’t be surprising, considering every other day a new study releases conflicting health messages on the value of a piece of bread.
So what about juice? Juice has received a huge amount of flak in recent years, but isn’t juice essentially a piece of whole fruit in liquid form? Can’t be that bad surely?
2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines
The 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines, which were released in February, state that a small glass of 100 percent fruit juice can be a beneficial part of a healthy, balanced diet for all people, including children.
This is a welcome statement for peak industry body, Fruit Juice Australia (FJA) which has recently commissioned an online consumer survey as well as evidence-based research reviews on the validity of ‘scaremongering’ claims surrounding fruit juice.
The online consumer survey of 1,000 Australian parents aimed to shed light on the validity of negative health claims surrounding fruit juice, including portion sizes and sugar content.
Findings in the survey indicate that one in four parents feels guilty about feeding their children fruit juice, and that parents in general are conflicted about the issue.
FJA chief executive, Geoff Parker, says that certain facts are routinely omitted from the controversial debate, including that 100 percent fruit juice has no added sugar and contains many of the same nutritional qualities, apart from dietary fibre, as whole fruit.
“The pendulum has swung too far in terms of disapproval by some commentators for what is in reality a healthy, natural option for children. We’re simply asking people to consider the facts about juice,” he said.
Squeezing out the evidence
In order to re-establish a healthy profile for juice, FJA commissioned an evidence-based research review titled Fruit Juice and Diet Quality – Squeezing out the Evidence which aims to inform health care professionals and the public about the benefits of 100 percent juice products.
The review showed positive correlations between children who consumed fruit juice as part of their diet with significantly higher intakes of four essential nutrients: folate, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.
“What the research overwhelmingly found was that people who consume fruit juice have an overall better quality to their diet,” Parker told Food Magazine.
The negative press that fruit juice has received over the past few years relates largely to the concentrated sugar content and lost nutrients during processing. Once fruit has been juiced, it loses a significant amount of nutrients found in the skin – carotenoids and flavonoids – and the pulp, which contains dietary fibre.
The Dieticians Association of Australia (DAA) states that while fruit juice can provide valuable nutrients, many varieties naturally contain a comparable amount of sugar and kilojoules to soft drinks. The DAA also points out that juice contains a relatively low amount of fibre when compared to fresh whole fruit.
Furthermore, a study conducted by Melbourne’s Deakin University on the association of key foods and beverages with obesity in Australian school children, found that children who drank fruit juice were more likely to be overweight than those who didn’t drink it. The study stated that “children who ‘usually’ drank fruit juice twice or more per day were 1.7 times more likely to be overweight/ obese compared with those who drank these beverages once or less per week.”
FJA states that if an individual consumes 100 percent fruit juice as part of a balanced diet, then the sugar content shouldn’t be of concern.
“We think that part of the negative image is the result of the sugar content of juice, which again is quite perplexing because all of the sugar in juice is completely natural and comes directly from the originating fruit. Juice has sugar, like fruit has sugar, it should be no surprise to people,” said Parker.
“The FJA is not saying that everyone should drink a 600ml glass of juice everyday, because for most people that is going to be way too much in a normal diet.
“A small glass of juice sitting around the 125ml mark can contribute to meeting a fruit serve and unfortunately a lot of kids are not meeting their daily intake of fruit serves, and when you look at that small glass being equivalent to one serve of fruit, it contributes to that daily intake.
“Research shows, and the Australian dietary guidelines have come out recently to show, that a small glass of 100 percent fruit juice – we are talking about half a cup or just about 125ml – is perfectly fine everyday as part of an overall diet,” he said.
But what about serving sizes?
So should the debate then turn to the issue of serving sizes? It has been widely publicised that everything in moderation is a good thing, so should the beverage industry be looking towards individual serving sizes that reflect the recommended daily intake?
A typical beverage serving size is 200 – 250ml, which is reflected in the popular tetra packs sold in supermarkets and placed in children’s lunchboxes. The daily recommended intake of juice is 125ml, half the typical serving size, making it harder for parents to control servings and no doubt a serious concern as national obesity rates in both adults and children continue to rise.
“There does seem to be some technical manufacturing problems when you start to go down to smaller than 200ml,” said Parker. “But then again if children are consuming 200mls of juice, then parents need to give consideration to what else is making up their diet. Not to say that 200mls of juice is bad or too much.”
Parker believes that the issue boils down to individual lifestyles, kilojoules requirements and personal/parental responsibility.
“All kilojoules matter, whether kids are consuming extra kilojoules from juice or from breakfast cereal, if kids are having two serves of breakfast cereal a day they are probably also going to show a correlation between that overconsumption and obesity. Consumption, particularly for kids, comes down to parental responsibility.”
Parker believes that a holistic approach is the most effective way to ensure that consumers get adequate nutrients, and the inclusion of a serve of juice will only help to contribute towards that daily nutritional goal.
In order for individuals and children to reach their nutrition goals, nothing compares to fresh whole fruit and vegetables. However today’s time poor society has a penchant for convenience, therefore access to fresh produce can be restricted. In which case, a tetra pack of 100 percent juice will no doubt serve as a welcome source of nutrients.