Our Sugar-Saturated Environment (and What You Can Do About It)

white sugarWith all we know today about the harmful effects of sugar, why are we still drawn to it like, well, kids in a candy store?

Sure, as many have pointed out, we seem to be hardwired to like sweet flavors. This fact is easily exploited by the makers – and, importantly, marketers – of processed food products.

One way of doing it? Spin the science.

As the Chicago Tribune reported late last year, research proving the harmful effects of sugar – including its contribution to heart disease and cancer – has existed for decades. Why haven’t more people heard about it? Because it was never made public.

Early results in August 1970 indicated that rats fed a high-sugar diet experienced an increase in blood levels of triglycerides, a type of fat that contributes to cholesterol.

Rats fed loads of sugar also appeared to have elevated levels of beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme previously associated with bladder cancer in humans, the researchers said.

Months after receiving these results, the International Sugar Research Foundation failed to approve an additional 12 weeks of funding that the Birmingham researchers needed to complete their work, according to the authors behind the new investigation.

Notably, the team of UCSF researchers who exposed this cover-up, headed by Stanton Glanz, is the same team who exposed the tobacco industry’s manipulative marketing efforts. And what they’ve shown so far suggests that the sugar biz is very much operating by Big Tobacco’s playbook.

Corporations will seemingly do most anything to keep their profits up.

In fact, the sugar industry even went as far as to manipulate dental research on the relationship between sugar and caries (tooth decay). As the Glanz team demonstrated in an earlier paper, industry actually helped set the research agenda for the National Institute of Dental Research.

Industry tactics included the following: funding research in collaboration with allied food industries on enzymes to break up dental plaque and a vaccine against tooth decay with questionable potential for widespread application, cultivation of relationships with the NIDR leadership, consulting of members on an NIDR expert panel, and submission of a report to the NIDR that became the foundation of the first request for proposals issued for the NCP. Seventy-eight percent of the sugar industry submission was incorporated into the NIDR’s call for research applications. Research that could have been harmful to sugar industry interests was omitted from priorities identified at the launch of the NCP. [emphasis added]

Addressing the primary cause of decay – too much sugar – was deemed unrealistic and impractical.

And it certainly can seem that way when you recognize how much sugar infuses our food supply or look at more obvious types of marketing, especially that targeting kids. Ads for sweet soft drinks, candy, breakfast cereals, and other sugar bombs can be found everywhere on TV, online, in video games, and more.

According to a 2017 study in Appetite, this marketing is directly related to increased consumption.

The study evaluated sugary cereal consumption for preschoolers in southern New Hampshire who saw commercials for these products on TV. (On TV, high sugar breakfast cereals, or SBCs, are the single most marketed product to kids.) Over 500 families participated. Both TV viewing and SBC consumption were documented.

In the past week, 56.9% of children ate SBCs advertised on kids’ channels. Overall, 40.6% of children were exposed to child-targeted SBC TV ads in the past week.

For every 10 SBC ads seen in the previous week, consumption rose 14%.

Suffice it to say, it’s up to us to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, despite the sugar-loaded culture around us. That can start by being a good role model and cutting back our own sugar intake.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Read labels. Just because something is marketed as organic or “healthy” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have indulgent ingredients. Sugars are one of the highest ingredients in protein bars or shakes. And if you’re grabbing a “healthy” drink such as almond milk or kombucha, choose one with little or no sugar.

  • Sweeten your water or tea with a splash of natural fruit juice rather than sugar or syrup.

  • Try some baking alternatives with applesauce instead of sugar.

  • Remember that carbs are digested as sugar. Try replacing pasta with vegetables like spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini.

  • Moderation! Everything adds up. Small changes can make a big impact over time. And many, many small indulgences can add up over time just as well (if not more easily).

  • If quitting sugar cold turkey doesn’t work for you, reduce gradually. This is better than no change at all.

Image by Umberto Salvagnin

How to Handle Those Holiday Carbs!

holiday feastHolidays are filled with foods that you might normally try to avoid.

Dining room tables are covered with potatoes, stuffing, glazed vegetables and meats, marshmallow-topped casseroles, dumplings, breads, and more. Appetizer trays feature crackers and crostini and fried treats of all kinds. Fudge and candy plates abound. You may have invites already for holiday baking or cookie parties.

And of course, there are the sweet drinks to wash it all down, from hot chocolate to egg nog and holiday cocktails, sodas to holiday brews.

So it’s probably no surprise that we wind up consuming anywhere from 3000 to 4500 calories just on a single holiday feast.

If you’re looking to manage your carb intake over the holidays, you’re not alone. Of course, it may not be possible to remove them entirely – or even desirable, considering the strong ties between holiday foods and traditions.

Even so, replacing some standard sides with slightly healthier versions or subbing a few key ingredients can really make a difference. Here are 7 alternatives to help get you thinking creatively about your meals this holiday season:

  1. Consider an alternative eggnog like this from So Delicious – less than half the calories and a fraction of the carbs. Of course, it still contains some sugar. If you want to go sugar-free, there are great recipes online such as this one, which uses stevia in place of the sugar.

  2. Mix in some gluten-free or vegan recipes with some of your standards. You’ll find some recipes to get you started here and here.

  3. Don’t forget the salad! Salads can be very pretty with colorful vegetables, a little dried fruit, and some nuts or feta cheese.

  4. Consider soups thickened and made creamier with pureed vegetables such as carrots or squash.

  5. Try a side dish heavier in vegetables with less (or no) pasta, like this Butternut Squash & Cauliflower Casserole, for instance.

  6. Replace traditional noodles with spaghetti squash or spiralized vegetables.

  7. Sweet potato casserole, mixed with a little whole fat coconut milk and cinnamon, can be a great replacement for the standard pumpkin pie (and tastes very similar!).

And if you want to stick with tradition and carb out as you please?

Maybe think about a fitness or nutrition challenge with a few friends or coworkers after the season has passed. Or think about signing up for a holiday fun run. Getting in a quick 5K or one-mile run with your family or friends could be the start of a new tradition and a great way to introduce a balance of healthy living with holiday indulgence.


Image by Jessica Spengler

Some Refreshing News about America’s Soda Habit

Here’s some refreshing news about Americans and soda: We’re finally drinking less of the stuff.

soda can topTen years ago, on any given day, over 61% of adults and nearly 80% of kids drank such beverages, none of which are particularly friendly to teeth (not to mention the rest of you).

According to new research in the journal Obesity, in 2014, just 50% of adults and 60.7% of children drank them.

Of course, that still leaves a lot of us drinking a lot of sugar. Still, such a significant reduction is an important step forward.

The study monitored data from 18,600 children and over 27,652 adults across 10 years of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

This overall decline in both beverage and [sugar-sweetened beverage] consumption is consistent with previous literature, suggesting a recent “turning point” toward lower energy intake in the US diet, potentially attributable to widespread discussion and media coverage of the role of certain foods (e.g., SSBs) in promoting obesity, changes to food allowances within the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, improvements to school feeding programs, and product reformulations by food manufacturers and retailers.

On the downside, consumption rates remain highest among black, Mexican American, and non-Mexican Hispanic teens – all groups at high risk of obesity and diabetes.

On the upside, the study also found that fruit juice consumption is down, as well. As we’ve noted before, fruit juice is essentially concentrated sugar and a major cause of tooth decay among young children in particular.

boy getting drink of waterWhat kids are drinking more of is what we all should be drinking more of: water.

Among children, the prevalence of 100% juice consumption declined significantly among 12- to 19-year-olds, water increased significantly across all age groups, and no significant changes were seen for coffee and tea, milk, or diet beverage consumption for any age group.

And this may not be a short term trend. Earlier this year, a major trade publication noted that soda sales have been declining for twelve years and counting.

The per capita consumption of soda drinks, including energy drinks, fell to about 642 8-ounce servings last year, the lowest level since 1985, when the Beverage Digest began tracking consumption trends….

Despite the fact that two of the biggest of the soda companies suspiciously fund 96 US health groups – including the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health – more people are seeing this as little more than an attempt to influence public health policy and maintain profits. Consumer education has been a big help, as have soda taxes, with the money going to fund various health programs.

In 2015, Berkeley, California introduced a soda tax after years of battling the industry. They’ve now seen a drop in sales by nearly 10% – and a spike in water sales, as well.

One year following implementation of the nation’s first large SSB tax, prices of SSBs increased in many, but not all, settings, SSB sales declined, and sales of untaxed beverages (especially water) and overall study beverages rose in Berkeley; overall consumer spending per transaction in the stores studied did not rise. Price increases for SSBs in two distinct data sources, their timing, and the patterns of change in taxed and untaxed beverage sales suggest that the observed changes may be attributable to the tax.

That said, water doesn’t always satisfy the urge for a sweet soft drink, especially if you’re going through a detox by gradually reducing your sugar intake. Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • Drink tea – hot or cold. Many spice teas have an inherent sweetness, as do some herb teas such as ginger lemon.
  • Splash a bit of lemon or lime into your water.
  • Infuse your own water with fruit, herbs, or vegetables. Here are a few ideas.
  • Make a veg-centric smoothie. Here are some tips for making sure yours is balanced and not a sugar-bomb.
  • Make your own fresh juice with fresh vegetables and fruit. Again, balance is key. Think green.

Bottom image by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

How Do You Know When “Organic” Is Really Organic?

organic label with question markAs we mentioned last time, trust is a big issue when it comes to food labeled “organic.” When people don’t trust it, they don’t buy it.

But matters of trust can also be confounded by our own expectations – and lots of people have different, not always correct, ideas about what “organic” actually means.

According to the USDA,

Organic crops are raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. The NOP regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge in organic production and handling.

But even this doesn’t necessarily mean “all natural.” As you may already know, there are plenty of approved synthetic substances that can be used in the production of crops or animal products and still allow a food to be called “organic.”

Similarly, a processed food can still get the USDA organic seal even if some ingredients – up to 5% – are non-organic.

But these are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to trust.

With popularity and demand, organic food production has grown beyond our current domestic capabilities. More food is being imported, yet as news has shown through the last several months, regulation may be more than a little bit lacking.

Earlier this year, for instance, shipments of corn and soybeans from Turkey wound up labeled as “organic” – and thus, worth about $4 million more than they should have been – even though the crops had been grown conventionally. And while “USDA officials say that their system for guarding against fraud is robust,” reported the Washington Post, the facts suggest otherwise.

Under USDA rules, a company importing an organic product must verify that it has come from a supplier that has a “USDA Organic” certificate. It must keep receipts and invoices. But it need not trace the product back to the farm. Some importers, aware of the possibility of fraud, request extra documentation. But others do not.

Regardless of where organics come from, critics say, the system suffers from multiple weaknesses in enforcement: Farmers hire their own inspection companies; most inspections are announced days or weeks in advance and lack the element of surprise; and testing for pesticides is the exception rather than the rule.

These vulnerabilities are magnified with imported products, which often involve more middlemen, each of whom could profit by relabeling conventional goods as “organic.” The temptation could be substantial, too: Products with a “USDA Organic” label routinely sell for twice the price of their conventional counterparts.

In recent years, even as the amount of organic corn and soybeans imported to the United States has more than tripled, the USDA has not issued any major sanctions for the import of fraudulent grain, U.S. farmers said.

“The U.S. market is the easiest for potentially fraudulent organic products to penetrate because the chances of getting caught here are not very high,” said John Bobbe, executive director of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, or OFARM, a farmer cooperative. In Europe and Canada, he said, import rules for organics are much stricter.

Since the news broke, an industry group, the Organic Trade Association, has said it will create an anti-fraud task force. US organic farmers remain skeptical, even “amused” by the thought.

And meantime, a USDA audit has revealed further issues. As Civil Eats recently reported,

The resounding issue is a lack of transparency. First, auditors found that the agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which houses the NOP, did not clearly share with stakeholders its methodology for determining how other countries’ organic standards compared to the USDA’s. And the on-site audits meant to ensure the efficacy of other countries’ certification practices were not conducted in a timely way, auditors found.

In addition, once products reached the U.S. border, auditors found that the agency did not provide reasonable assurance that inspectors reviewed the required documents proving organic practices at U.S. ports of entry. Finally, auditors also found that millions of pounds of organic products were sometimes fumigated with conventional pesticides to prevent invasive pests from entering the country, but still labeled and sold the food as organic.

“While most organic food is safe, and dramatically reduces your exposure to pesticides, the report reveals serious regulatory gaps that allow a few bad actors to ship sham ‘organic’ products to the U.S.,” explained Bill Freese, a science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety. “The USDA must up its game to block these imports, both to protect consumers and ensure a level playing field for American organic farmers.”

So what can we do? Is there any way to make sure that the organic food you buy is really organic?

The only sure way right now is to start your own garden. Then you control what’s put in, on, and around your food. It doesn’t need to be huge. Start small with just a simple tomato plant, say, or a few peppers, both of which can be very fruitful with pretty low maintenance. As your green thumb develops, you can always expand with more plants.

You can also limit the number of processed products you buy, centering your diet on whole food rather than collections of ingredients. It’s simpler to source single or minimally processed products than pre-made ones.

If you support your local community gardens, farmers markets, and CSAs, you can find out as much as you want to know about how the foods were produced. You can ask the growers directly – something impossible to do at a big box store or even your local grocery store.

That said, more and more supermarkets now are starting to feature more local, organic produce, at least. If that’s not an option, at least seek domestic products, which are more regulated for now.

And if money is a concern, there really are ways to eat organic on a budget. Here are some tips to get you started.

Image via Food Renegade

The Magic of Food Labeling

grocery storeShop in a grocery store, and most of what you see has been processed to one degree or another.

Yes, strictly speaking, even things like cleaning, sorting, and bagging organic fruit or veg count as processing.

In essence, “processing” is merely about turning food in its natural form into a product for consumption. Such products run the gamut from minimally- to hyper-processed, with foods tending to lose more of their nutritional value the more processed they are.

Regardless of the degree of processing, something funny happens when food companies slap labels onto their products: Consumer perceptions can change.

According to a recent survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a front group for the food and beverage industries, many consumers base their opinions of what they think is “processed” only if the item seems like it was altered in some way.

And if you label it as “organic,” the product may seem even less processed.

Only three out of fourteen carrot-based products listed were considered “processed” by over half of respondents…Interestingly, consumers were only half as likely to categorize organic bagged baby carrots (7%) as processed compared to conventional bagged baby carrots (14%).

A recent study in Appetite likewise found that the “organic” label can indeed lead consumers to attribute qualities to a processed food quality that may or may not actually be true.

Overall, processed organic (vs. conventional) foods were perceived as tastier, more healthful (Study 1) or equally healthful (Study 2), but also as more caloric.

“Uncovering the specific conditions in which food claims bias consumer’s perceptions and behavior,” note the authors, “may have important implications for marketing, health and public-policy related fields.”

Of course, we have good reasons for favoring organics. As a study in Procedia Economics and Finance noted,

the reasons advocated by the consumers for buying organic food products are varied and primarily the motivations behind their decision to purchase include concerns for environment, health concern and lifestyle, food product quality and their subjective norms. Consumer behaviour involves the psychological processes that consumers go through in recognizing needs, finding ways to solve these needs; collect and interpret information; make plans and implement these plans, making purchase decisions and post-purchase behaviour.

But our willingness to buy and our purchases making a difference hangs on another important thing: trust. This was demonstrated nicely by a 2015 Thai study in the Journal of Business Ethics. Through two focus groups and 10 interviews, as well as a related intercept study, its authors found that lack of trust in the labeling and control procedures of organic food in Thailand have resulted in consumers being much less likely to buy organic.

Mistrust in the control system and in the authenticity of food sold as organic has a significant negative impact on self-reported buying behavior. Implications for policy and future research are discussed.

Next week, we’ll look further at the issue of organics labeling and how you can make sure you’re getting the quality you pay for.

A Look Back at…Nitric Oxide

Originally posted September 29, 2016

nitric oxide moleculeUnlike nitrous oxide, a.k.a. “laughing gas,” nitric oxide it is no laughing matter. Rather, it’s a signaling molecule that our body produces to help the trillions of cells in our body communicate with each other.

Nitric oxide is made by the body’s blood vessel’s lining. When this lining – the endothelium – senses healthy conditions, such as when you exercise, it releases more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide expands the blood vessels, increases blood flow, and decreases plaque and blood clotting.

A healthy release of nitric oxide has been reported to

  • Help memory and behavior.
  • Support the immune system’s fight against pathogenic bacteria and defend against tumors.
  • Regulate blood pressure.
  • Improve sleep quality.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Increase endurance and strength.
  • Aid digestion.

We get plenty of nitric oxide when we’re young, but production falls later in life. Production also drops off when the endothelium senses less than healthy factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and increased stress levels. Free radical damage, inactivity, and poor dietary choices likewise have a negative effect nitric oxide release.

Happily, there are ways to increase nitric oxide and reap its benefits.

  1. Exercise
    When you exercise your muscles require more oxygen, which is supplied by the blood. As your heart pounds, your arteries release nitic oxide into the blood. This opens and relaxes the vessel walls and allows more blood to pass through.

  2. Diet
    Vegetables such beets, beet juice, celery, and dark leafy greens such as kale chard, arugula, and spinach are high in dietary nitrates and nitrites, both of which stimulate the production of nitric oxide. In addition, eating food with color increases the flavonoids in your diet. Flavonoids protect nitric oxide from free radical damage. Generally, it’s best to avoid a diet either too high in fat or carbohydrate. Both can inhibit nitric oxide production.

  3. Nitric oxide supplements
    Traditionally, supplementing for nitric oxide meant taking supplements containing L-arginine. But current research indicates that, as you age, L-arginine is less likely to prove effective.

    Enter new research out of the University of Texas Health Science Center, which has led to a proprietary, beetroot-based, nitric oxide formula that generates authentic nitric oxide while supporting the enzyme that makes nitric oxide in the body.

    The scientist at the helm of this form of supplementation is Dr. Nathan Bryan who co-authored The Nitric Oxide (NO) Solution based on his research.

Whether you increase nitric oxide via exercise, diet, supplementation, or a combination of all three, tapping into this overlooked molecule’s power may well help you age with strength and vitality.

Changing the Narrative of Food

Healthy eating starts with whole food, real food, including lots of fresh produce. When you picture how it’s grown, you may imagine wide open spaces, fields spanning acres and acres.

But it can just as well happen on a much smaller scale, in urban and suburban areas alike. Think front yard gardens, rooftop and courtyard gardens, or any underutilized space. Many communities have unused or struggling properties that can be repurposed for flourishing community gardens.

In this TED Talk, Pam Warhurst describes how she and a group of others made it happen in her community of Todmorden in northern England, launching an initiative they came to call “Incredible Edible”:

Such programs are cropping up all over the world, including here in Arlington, where we have things like the Community Garden of UT Arlington and the Harvesting Hope Community Garden.

Consider supporting one of these or another community garden project. Volunteer or donate or buy from harvests put up for sale. Or follow Warhurst’s lead and create your own concept for an edible neighborhood landscape and make it a reality.

Already doing so? Share your experiences in the comments!

More Reason to Kick the Sugar Habit (and More Tips on How to Do It)

dropped cupcakeEver notice that when you cave in to sugar cravings, you don’t end up feeling any better – and may, in fact, actually feel worse?

That feeling worse may not just be a short term effect. According to new research in Scientific Reports, depressive symptoms can be directly linked to the intake of sugary foods and drinks.

Food frequency questionnaires were reviewed from over 23,000 British subjects dating back to 1985 and compared with mood responses on validated questionnaires. Men who ate the most sugar were found to have a 23% higher chance of common mental disorder (CMD) after five years – a condition marked by insomnia, fatigue, irritability, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and somatic (physical) complaints.

Both men and women who ate the most sugar were found more likely to experience recurrent depression, as well.

The researchers also tried to find a reverse causation between mood disorder and sugar intake – in other words, whether mood also caused more sugar consumption. The answer to that was “no.”

“Our research,” they wrote, “confirms an adverse effect of sugar intake from sweet food/beverage on long-term psychological health and suggests that lower intake of sugar may be associated with better psychological health.”

With a high prevalence of mood disorders, and sugar intake commonly two to three times the level recommended, our findings indicate that policies promoting the reduction of sugar intake could additionally support primary and secondary prevention of depression.

No, the study isn’t perfect. All data was self-reported and thus prone to bias. Sugar from alcohol wasn’t counted. But its results do jibe with the new understanding of the role chronic inflammation appears to play in depression.

Sugar is one of the main fuels for inflammation. Eating less of it is the first step in any anti-inflammatory diet: You quit adding fuel to the fire.

Here are 7 simple tips for cutting back on added sugars (and keep in mind, when we’re talking sugar, we’re talking about all kinds, including honey, agave nectar, and other “natural” alternatives):

  1. Try a squeeze of fresh lemon into your iced tea instead of a sweetener.

  2. If you eat oatmeal or other grains in the morning, top them with fresh sliced whole fruit instead of pouring sugar on them.

  3. Clean your cupboards to simply remove temptation.

  4. Include more healthy fats such as avocado or coconut and olive oils to help satiety.

  5. Create a schedule with healthy snacks throughout the day to avoid those “hangry” moments that might lead you to binge on a sugary snack.

  6. Consider making your own “pudding” with whole fat coconut milk rather than buying something at the store packed with artificial ingredients and extra sugars. Here’s one way to do it, for example.

  7. Substitute things like bananas and applesauce in your baking. Here’s a simple cookie recipe using bananas, oats, Sunbutter, and raisins (optional).

Previously

Image by mumblyjoe

Food Literacy? There’s Room for Improvement

grocery store aisleAsk a typical American where their food comes from, and they’ll probably say something like “the grocery store.” Beyond that, they might not even want to know – just so long as the food they want is there when they want it.

The depths of food illiteracy were recently seen in a new dairy industry survey.

Among the most shocking findings? Almost half of American adults aren’t sure where chocolate milk comes from. Seven percent actually believe that chocolate milk comes only from brown cows.

Really.

If you do the math, that works out to 16.4 million misinformed, milk-drinking people. The equivalent of the population of Pennsylvania (and then some!) does not know that chocolate milk is milk, cocoa and sugar.

Other research cited in the same article found more than half of urban California fourth- through sixth-graders “didn’t know pickles were cucumbers, or that onions and lettuce were plants.”

Four in 10 didn’t know that hamburgers came from cows. And 3 in 10 didn’t know that cheese is made from milk.

The problem of food illiteracy isn’t unique to Americans. A recent survey from the British Nutrition Foundation

found that children between the ages of 5 and 16 have real misconceptions about what they’re eating. Among them: the belief that pasta comes from animals, which about a tenth of 8- to 11-year-olds subscribe to.

…The poll also found that about a fifth of 5- to 7-year-olds believe fish fingers contain chicken. And another 29 percent of them thought cheese was a plant….

Such beliefs don’t necessarily signal a lack of intelligence. They do show that a good many of us are very divorced from the source of our sustenance.

If you grew up in the country, you probably have an idea of how “farm-to-table” actually works. Otherwise, it’s quite reasonable to think that food comes in packages and leave it at that. Food, in that world, is a consumer good, and who thinks about how any consumer good winds up in our hands, the path it took from raw materials to the item we bought online?

The simple fact is that most of us have handed over our food and nutrition needs to third parties. That’s why labeling matters as much as it does. If we don’t make or grow the food ourselves, it’s one of the main ways we have to know much of anything at all about it.

Industrialization reduces food to simply a matter of consumption. We come to think of it as fuel or as a delivery system for nutrients and not as something that’s also important socially, culturally. Just think about any special occasion: a holiday, a birthday, a first date, a funeral. Chances are, food is at the center of it – not for the nutrition it delivers but for its ability to bring us together in our shared humanity.

Improving food literacy could take us a very long way toward improving the health of our nation – indeed, of our world. Alice Waters’ Edible Classroom project is perhaps the most notable effort to reconnect kids with nature through food, and it’s certainly spawned many imitators. After all, it offers beautiful evidence of how kids gravitate toward the real when given the chance.

Image by Sean Gregor

Ditch the Juice, Go for the Whole Fruit

oranges and juiceHow much juice should you let your kids drink? If they’re younger than one, zero, zilch, nada.

That’s according to new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. And that’s the best part of the news.

Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit to children under age 1 and should not be included in their diet.

But that implies some nutritional benefit to kids over a year old. And that’s a sketchy claim at best. As nutritional consultant Dr. Mike Roussell has put it,

There aren’t any benefits to drinking fruit juice over eating whole fruits. In fact, eating whole fruit is a better choice. In regards to vegetables, the only benefit to vegetables juices is that it might enhance your consumption of vegetables; but you’ll miss out on some key health benefits by juicing.

As Dr. Royal Lee pointed out years ago, when you eat whole fruit, you get the total nutritional package: vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients. When you juice, these get delivered with concentrated sugar – sometimes even more sugar than you’d get in a can of soda pop.

Really.

And that’s not good at any age. As one 2016 review put it, while there are still research gaps to be bridged by science,

Sufficient evidence links a high intake of sugar to dental caries and obesity, and high intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages in particular to increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Other research has confirmed that, like diet soda, fruit juice is not apt to be a “healthy alternative…to sugar sweetened beverages for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.”

“Fruit juice,” notes the AAP, “offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit for infants and children and has no essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children.”

Whole fruit, on the other hand, has such a role. Many fruits also tend to be high in vitamin C, which is essential for healthy gums. Crunchy fruit such as apples also help stimulate saliva flow that helps protect the teeth.

And what does juice do? Bathes the teeth in sugar and acids, destroying tooth enamel and making the teeth more vulnerable to decay.

Ditch the juice. Go for the fruit.