RUNNING OUT OF JUICE
Many people with diabetes will only drink fruit juice to halt a hypo, and now there's proof
that when it comes to sugar content, fruit juice is a heavy hitter. Drinking fruit juice is
potentially just as bad for you as drinking sugar-sweetened drinks because of its high
sugar content, according two medical researchers from the University of Glasgow.
Writing in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal, Professor Naveed Sattar
and Dr Jason Gill from the University of Glasgow's Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical
Sciences have called for better labelling of fruit juice containers to make it explicit to
consumers that they should drink no more than 150ml a day. They also recommend a
change to the UK Government's current "five-a-day" guidelines, saying these five fruit
and vegetable servings should no longer include a portion of fruit juice. They argue that
inclusion of fruit juice as a fruit equivalent is "probably counter-productive" because it
"fuels the perception that drinking fruit juice is good for health, and thus need not be
subject to the limits that many individuals impose on themselves for consumption of less
Professor Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine, says, "Fruit juice has a similar energy
density and sugar content to other sugary drinks, for example: 250ml of apple juice typically
contains 110 kcal and 26g of sugar; and 250ml of cola typically contains 105kcal and
26.5g of sugar. Additionally, by contrast with the evidence for solid fruit intake, for which
high consumption is generally associated with reduced or neutral risk of diabetes, current
evidence suggests high fruit juice intake is associated with increased risk of diabetes."
One glass of fruit juice contains substantially more sugar than one piece of fruit. In
addition, much of the goodness in fruit - fibre, for example - is not found in fruit juice, or is
there in far smaller amounts, explains Professor Sattar. And although fruit juices contain
vitamins and minerals, whereas sugar-sweetened drinks do not, Dr Gill argues that the
micronutrient content of fruit juices might not be sufficient to offset the adverse metabolic
consequences of excessive fruit juice consumption. Says Gill, "The general perception
of the public, and of many healthcare professionals, that drinking fruit juice is a positive
health behaviour, their consumption might not be substantially different in health terms
than drinking other sugary drinks."
The researchers tested public awareness of the sugar content of fruit juices,
smoothies and sugar-sweetened drinks by carrying out an online poll of over 2000 adults
who were shown pictures of full containers of different non-alcoholic beverages and were
asked to estimate the number of teaspoons of sugar contained in the portion shown.
Although the sugar content of all drinks and smoothies shown was similar, the sugar
content of fruit juices and smoothies was actually underestimated by 48% on average,
whereas the sugar content of carbonated drinks was overestimated by 12%.
Says Dr Gill, "There seems to be a clear misperception that fruit juices and smoothies
are low-sugar alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages."
It's always a shame when people are trying to be healthy and choose better food
options, just to be undermined by the lack of decent labelling on products. Professor
Sattar argues, "In the broader context of public health policy, it is important that debate
about sugar-sweetened beverage reduction should include fruit juice. We have known
for years about the dangers of excess saturated fat intake. Helping individuals cut not
only their excessive fat intake, but also refined sugar intake, could have major health
benefits including lessening of obesity rates and incidences of heart attacks. Ultimately,
there needs to be a refocus to develop foods which not only limit saturated fat intake but
simultaneously limit refined sugar content."