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If you were asked how much sugar you have in a day, what would you say? The majority of people that I asked mentioned the amount of sugar they put into their numerous cups of tea throughout the day – a couple mentioned that they had a chocolate bar as part of their meal deal from Boots. Not one of them mentioned – or even thought about – the amount of added sugar that they consume through fruit juices that have been effectively marketed as healthy.
Fruit juices and smoothies are marketed as efficient ways to consume the recommended daily 5-a-day as well as a more flavoursome way to get children to accept and enjoy their nemesis’ – fruit and vegetables. Innocent smoothies (who are owned by Coca-Cola) market their smoothies as providing ‘2 of your 5 a day in every bottle or 250ml glass’; the same 250ml glass of Innocent’s pomegranate, blueberry and acai smoothie also contains 34g of sugar, near enough the same amount of sugar as a 330ml can of Coke.
Susan Jebb, government advisor and head of the diet and obesity research group at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research Unit at Cambridge University, is of the firm opinion that official government advice stating that a glass of fruit juice counts towards our recommended daily fruit and vegetable allowance should be eradicated. Heidi Lanschutzer, food and drink analyst at research company Mintel, agrees with this stance and believes that if the juice and smoothie market were not allowed to market their products as being a part of the 5-a-day list it would “definitely have an impact” on awareness and obviously, sugar intake.
The term ‘sugar’ can be misleading; fruits and vegetables contain natural sugars but also contain vital vitamins and minerals. Foods such as desserts, fizzy drinks and fruit juices have added sugars – sugar that has been added by manufacturers to increase flavour (and as a result, sales).
The UK guideline daily amount (GDA) for sugar intake is 90grams (this equates to around 10 teaspoons a day). The GDA takes table sugar (sucrose) and natural sugars into account; your daily pieces of fruit count towards your daily sugar intake which many individuals forget. Sugars and starches are the main sources of energy that our body has; the brain and the body’s tissue need sugar to carry out their main functions.
Stories focusing on the increased amount of sugar in ‘healthy’ fruit juices have been regularly published for the past couple of years. The US scientists who warned about the amount of high-fructose corn syrup in fizzy drinks have now set their sights on the fruit juice industry; a study in the British Medical Journal last summer highlighted that fruit juice is associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes and earlier this month, Elizabeth Chaplin, head of Valence Primary School, Dagenham, has banned children from having fruit juices in their lunch boxes due to its high-sugar content.
Despite all of the facts and figures, many of us still do not look at the GDA labels on our foods, and in this case, our drinks. Researchers at Mintel established that 83% of people in the UK drink fruit juices, and 76% of these believe these beverages to be healthy – only 34% were concerned about sugar and calorie content.
Experts are not telling us to completely banish fruit juices and smoothies from our diets, but as with everything, moderation is key. Azmina Govindji, dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, told The Guardian that 150ml of fruit juice is adequate as counting towards our 5-a-day but suggests having it “with a meal so it doesn’t make your blood sugar go up too quickly...difficulty comes when people think of fruit juice as being a really healthy drink and having half a pint or having it throughout the day, or where children are being brought up on large amounts”.
Govindji goes on to state that small amounts of juices are fine, providing they are introduced and drank in accordance with a healthy, balanced diet. These juices provide us with fluid, vitamin C and sugar, but where possible fresh fruit and vegetables should be chosen over juices as they give us fibre, more nutrients, necessary sugars and fewer calories.
Recognising the importance of portion size and distribution of GDAs directly correlates with having a healthy diet, and as a result, a healthy lifestyle. Mixed messages on topics such as fruit juices are undoubtedly puzzling to consumers, but as is the case with the majority of food debates and issues, the natural product will always be more rich in nutrients and beneficial to us than the artificial – even if it is marketed as 100% natural, the levels of these natural ingredients need to be taken into account.