The UK’s Guardian newspaper is running a high profile article alerting readers to the health risks of drinking fruit juices and smoothies – for so long seen as a ‘healthy’ alternative – based on warnings from the scientists who previously raised of the dangers of soft drinks and sodas. This is an extract…
Fruit juices and smoothies represent a new risk to our health because of the amount of sugar the apparently healthy drinks contain, warn the US scientists who blew the whistle on corn syrup in soft drinks a decade ago.
Barry Popkin and George Bray pointed the finger at high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks in 2004, causing a huge headache for the big manufacturers, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
“Smoothies and fruit juice are the new danger,” said Popkin, a distinguished professor at the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, in an interview with the Guardian.
He added: “It’s kind of the next step in the evolution of the battle. And it’s a really big part of it because in every country they’ve been replacing soft drinks with fruit juice and smoothies as the new healthy beverage. So you will find that Coke and Pepsi have bought dozens [of fruit juice companies] around the globe.”
In the UK, Coca-Cola owns Innocent smoothies while PepsiCo has Tropicana. Launching Tropicana smoothies in 2008, Pepsi’s sales pitch was that the drink would help the nation to reach its five a day fruit and vegetable target. “Smoothies are one of the easiest ways to boost daily fruit intake as each 250ml portion contains the equivalent of 2 fruit portions,” it said at the time.
However, Popkin says the five a day advice needs to change. Drink vegetable juice, he says, but not fruit juice. “Think of eating one orange or two and getting filled,” he said. “Now think of drinking a smoothie with six oranges and two hours later it does not affect how much you eat. The entire literature shows that we feel full from drinking beverages like smoothies but it does not affect our overall food intake, whereas eating an orange does. So pulped-up smoothies do nothing good for us but do give us the same amount of sugar as four to six oranges or a large coke. It is deceiving.”
Nine years ago the two scientists had identified sugar-sweetened soft drinks, full of calories and consumed between meals, as a major cause of soaring obesity in developed countries. But they argue that as people change their drinking habits to avoid carbonated soft drinks, the potential damage from naturally occurring fructose in fruit juices and smoothies is being overlooked.
All sugars are equal in their bad effects, says Popkin – even those described on cereal snack bars sold in health food shops as containing “completely natural” sweeteners. “The most important issue about added sugar is that everybody thinks it’s cane sugar or maybe beet sugar or HFC syrup or all the other syrups but globally the cheapest thing on the market almost is fruit juice concentrate coming out of China. It has created an overwhelming supply of apple juice concentrate. It is being used everywhere and it also gets around the sugar quotas that lots of countries have.”
In a survey of sweeteners in US food products between 2005 and 2009 for a paper published in 2012, Popkin and colleagues found that fruit juice concentrate was the fifth most common sugar overall and the second most common, after corn syrup, in soft drinks and in babies’ formula milk.
More studies need to be done before governments and health bodies around the world will take notice. There are only two really good long-term trials – one in Singapore and one by Harvard, he says. “But all the long term studies on fruit juice in anything show the same kind of effect whether it’s a smoothie or natural [juice] and whether it’s a diabetes or weight gain effect,” Popkin added.
…In an article this year in the journal Pediatric Obesity, Bray and Popkin review the issue 10 years on from their famous paper. “The concern with HFCS in our diet has led to a reduced proportion of HFCS in beverages compared to other sugars,” they say, but add “this is a misplaced shift … fructose remains a major component of our global diet. To date, to the best of our knowledge every added amount of fructose – be it from fruit juice, sugar-sweetened beverages or any other beverage or even from foods with high sugar content – adds equally to our health concerns linked with this food component.”