Sugar is sugar: Fruit juice just as bad as soda for kids

By Amir Khan

Doctors and public health officials have long called for parents to eschew soda, but what you replace it with is just as important. While kids are drinking less soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, many minority kids are switching to 100 percent fruit juice – which can be just as bad for you as soda according to a new study published yesterday in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

But while African-American and Latino children have increased their consumption of 100 percent juice, the same isn’t seen in Caucasian children, according to the study.

“Our results stress the need for more education on healthy beverages and making sure these messages reach all ethnic groups,” Amy Beck, M.D., M.P.H., lead author and pediatrician at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and San Francisco General Hospital, said in a statement. “It’s crucial that the public health message reflect that 100 percent fruit juice should be limited, and not used as a substitute for soda.”

Researchers examined data from the California Health Interview Survey, a telephone survey conducted every two years between 2003-09, and found that during that time, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption dropped from 40 percent to 16 percent among kids ages 2 to 5, and from 54 percent to 33 percent in kids age 6 to 10.

“There has been a lot of focus in California on reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, and that appears to be working,” Beck said in the statement.

However, while the number of white children consuming two or more servings of 100 percent fruit juice decreased, it increased among African-American and Latino children of all ages.

“Parents are getting mixed messages about juice, and some parents appear to be using it as a replacement for the sugar-sweetened beverages, rather than turning to water or milk,” Beck said in the statement.

Where you get your sugar matters

It’s unclear why the racial divide exists, researchers said, but it’s important to spread the message that fruit juice isn’t a good substitute for soda.

Fruit juice sounds wholesome and healthy, they added, but often offers comparable sugar levels to soda.

“Parents who are thinking actively about nutrition wouldn’t give their kids Coca-Cola, but might give apple juice,” Beck said in the statement. “But 8 ounces of Coca-Cola contains 27 grams of sugar, as does 8 ounces of apple juice. We need to make sure parents understand the best thing to replace soda is water or milk.”

While fruit juices are high in sugar, Bonnie Taub-Dix, M.A., R.D.N., Everyday Health Blogger and author of the book “Read it Before You Eat It,” said comparing them to soda isn’t an accurate comparison.

“When it comes to the sugar in soda, if we look at the profile of the food, there’s zero value there,” she said. “If we look at 100 percent fruit juice, even though it may contain sugar, there are other things, such as vitamin C or antioxidants that provide value.”

Still, she added, while fruit juices are better than soda, they’re not as good as water.

“I think that fruit juice has a place on the plate, but we should encourage our kids to drink more water and milk,” Dix said.

But if you are going to give your kids fruit juice, Dix urged parents to read the food label before buying.

“It’s important to read food labels and make sure it’s 100 percent fruit juice,” she said. “There are juices that are more like ‘juice drinks’ or ‘fruit-ades,’ which have added sugar and are just as bad as soda.”

In addition, fruit juice shouldn’t be all your child drinks, she said.

“It’s still important to consume in moderation,” Dix said, “because these products can still have a lot of calories.”

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