Drink water, eat fruit: Fruit drinks marketed to children found to have shockingly high amounts of sugar

According to research published in the online journal BMJ Open, the sugar content of fruit drinks is “unacceptably high.” These refreshments include fruit drinks, and smoothies are some of the worst offenders.

The findings revealed that at least half of the products assessed contained almost all of a child’s entire daily recommended maximum sugar intake of 19 grams (g) or almost five teaspoons. The findings were finalized ahead of the publication of the U.K. government’s childhood obesity strategy.

In lieu of informing the public about the negative effect sugar-sweetened drinks have on kids’ teeth and weights, many parents now go for what they believe are healthier fruit juice and smoothie alternatives.

To measure the sugar content of fruit juice drinks, 100 percent natural juices and smoothies marketed  for children, the researchers measured the quantity of “free” sugars per 100 milliliter (ml) in 203 standard portion sizes (200 ml) of U.K. branded and supermarket own label products, using the pack labeling information provided.

“Free” sugars refer to sugars (e.g. glucose, fructose, sucrose, and table sugar) that are added by the manufacturer, and naturally occurring sugars in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates, but not the naturally occurring sugars found in whole fruits and vegetables, which the body metabolizes differently and which help curb energy intake.

The results identified glaring differences in the number of free sugars between different types of drink and within the same type of product. Meanwhile, 85 juice drinks, which are more than 40 percent of the total sample of products, had at least 19g of free sugars, which is almost the same as a child’s entire daily maximum recommended amount.

The researchers explained that at least 60 percent of the products need a red traffic light label, which is a coding system designed by the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) to help consumers determine high levels of fat, salt and sugar in processed food and drink.

At least 78 products had non-calorific sweeteners like aspartame. While the drinks were safe, health experts caution that a decrease in the “overall sweetness of products” is necessary so children’s taste buds will get used to less sugar in their diets, warn the researchers.

Per current dietary guidelines, a serving of fruit juice/drink/smoothie must be no more than 150 ml. But only six of the products assessed matched this recommended portion size. The researchers offered the following suggestions based on their findings:

  • Fruit juices/juice drinks/smoothies with a high free sugar content shouldn’t count as one of the U.K. government’s “five a day” recommendations, which is currently the case.
  • Whenever possible, eat fruit whole instead of drinking artificially sweetened juice.
  • Parents must dilute fruit juice with water or offer kids unsweetened juices, which must only be allowed during meals.
  • Portion sizes must be limited to 150 ml/day.
  • Manufacturers must refrain from adding unnecessary amounts of sugars and calories to their fruit drink/juice/smoothie products. Those who can’t do this voluntarily must follow the government’s statutory regulations.

Natural alternatives to fruit drinks

Instead of giving your kids fruit drinks and smoothies full of sugar, consider these natural alternatives to sugary drinks instead:

  • Water – You can add an orange or lemon slice to flavor water if your child thinks it’s a bit plain.
  • Milk or milk alternatives – Growing children need milk, and parents must encourage them to drink at least two to four cups of whole milk daily. If there’s a risk for obesity, give then two percent milk instead. Natural milk alternatives include soy, hemp, almond or rice milks.
  • Homemade flavored milk – Make your own flavored milk using fruits such as strawberries.
  • Coconut water – Always buy plain coconut water or get it fresh straight from a coconut.
  • Homemade smoothies – Make smoothies using fruits and vegetables such as kale or bananas, which will have more fiber than artificial fruit smoothies.

You can read more articles about fresh food and tips on how to eat healthy at Fresh.news.

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