Parents who think those smoothies and 100 percent natural fruit juices marketed for kids are healthy choices may want to reconsider what they allow their children to drink. A new British study published March 24 in the online journal BMJ Open found that single servings of such drinks contain the equivalent of a full day’s serving of sugar.
“Increasing public awareness of the detrimental effect sugar sweetened drinks have on kids’ teeth and waistlines has prompted many parents to opt for seemingly healthier fruit juice and smoothie alternatives,” lead researcher Simon Capewell, MD, DSc, a professor at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, said in a university news release.
“Unfortunately, our research shows that these parents have been misled. The sugar content of the fruit drinks, including natural fruit juices and smoothies tested is unacceptably high. And smoothies are the worst offenders,” Capewell added.
For the study, Capewell and his colleagues calculated the amount of free sugars – glucose, fructose, sucrose and table sugar added by the manufacturers – as well as naturally occurring sugars in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrations in 203 7-ounce fruit drinks. Naturally occurring sugars in whole fruits and vegetables are not free sugars and were not included in the calculations.
Findings showed that nearly half of the tested products contained at least a child’s daily recommended maximum sugar intake of 19 grams (five teaspoons). Fifty-seven of the products were sweetened by sugar, 65 by artificial sweeteners, and five contained both. Seven of the tested products contained glucose-fructose syrup.
The researchers also found product labeling was often confusing. In many instances, the intake reference applied to adults and not to the children who were consuming the product.
Although the study analyzed fruit juice products available in the U.K., American health experts say the results are not surprising and would probably be the same in the U.S.
“I believe the results would be very similar if this study was conducted with fruit drink products available in the United States,” Pamela Koch, executive director of the nutrition program at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, in New York City, told HealthDay.
“Many fruit drinks are excessively high in added sugars, as this study found. Yet these are often marketed as healthy products, confusing parents and children,” she added.
Capewell urged manufacturers to “stop adding unnecessary amounts of sugars, and therefore calories, to their fruit drink/juice/smoothie products.” He also advised parents to give their children whole fruits instead of drinks. If fruit drinks are to be served, Capewell said that they should be diluted with water, only offered during meals, and limited to 5 ounces a day.