Sugar kills — and that means fruit juice does, too

The British have been on a tear recently in their attempt to reel in the ravaging effects that sugar has had on their country, once and for all. And as you can imagine, I applaud them for taking such a stance.

However you feel about the idea of a National Health Service, this setup at least encourages a system in which the government is invested in getting a lot of bang for their buck where public health is concerned. (The U.S., on the other hand, just likes to throw money at fixing whatever’s broken instead of — here’s a novel idea! — preventing it from breaking in the first place.)

One of the benefits of this focus on prevention has been an ongoing campaign to expose sugar as the killer it is. And this time, England has shifted the spotlight over to less obvious — and in some ways, more dangerous — sources.

A team of British researchers recently evaluated the sugar content of more than 200 different fruit drinks. They measured “free” sugars — glucose, fructose, sucrose, and table sugar, as well as naturally occurring sugars. These could be either added by the manufacturer, or a natural part of pure juices and concentrates.

In other words, we’re not just talking about Kool-Aid here. We’re talking about fruit juice drinks, those “100 percent natural” juices, and smoothies that are specifically marketed to parents and young children. And surprise, surprise… many of them were found to have “unacceptably high” levels of sugar.

In fact, close to half of these “kid’s” drinks delivered an entire day’s worth of sugar — 19 grams (equivalent to five teaspoons) or more — in a single serving.

So much for these choices being “healthier.” As this research so aptly demonstrates, sugar is sugar — no matter where it comes from. And the effect fruit juice has on kids’ health is every bit as scary as that of a can of sickeningly-sweet Coke.

And speaking of Coke…

If you want my opinion, all of the so-called “healthy” fruit juices and smoothies are nothing more than gateway drinks. They’re aimed at children in a not-so-subtle attempt to get them hooked on sugar (and sugary beverages, in particular) as young as possible. And if obesity rates are any indication, it’s working.

Let’s not forget, research has shown that sugar is as addictive as any drug. We wouldn’t let our kids smoke or do cocaine. So why do so many people think it’s okay to let them eat sugar?

And it doesn’t really matter what truly healthy ingredients a parent might be trying to sneak in with it. It’s worth mentioning that, among the products selected, smoothies (which often include spinach, blueberries, and other otherwise-nutritious produce) were the worst sugar offenders.

They contain even more sugar than plain fruit juice. And they’re just another greedy attempt at convincing the public that they’re doing something good for themselves or their children. (Much like all those “healthy” muffins on the market. I’m sorry, but cake is still cake, by any other name.)

And the deception doesn’t end at creative marketing, either. This study also discovered that the “Nutrition facts” listed on these products’ labels were based on recommended intakes for an average adult woman. Not the average child.

In light of their discoveries, the researchers offered a few recommendations. Among them:

  • Fruit juices, juice drinks, and smoothies shouldn’t qualify as one of the standard “five-a-day” fruit and vegetable servings. (Common sense if you think about it. But in a world where ketchup is somehow a vegetable, it sadly needs to be said.)
  • Fruit should be eaten whole, like nature intended, not as juice. (But I must add that even certain whole fruits contain too much sugar for daily consumption — grapes, bananas, and other tropical fruits in particular. Stick with low sugar fruits like berries and melon instead.)
  • Parents should be diluting fruit juices with water, or choosing unsweetened ones, and only serving these drinks at mealtime. (Better yet, how about not at all?)

Despite my own personal caveats, these recommendations are a great start — but unfortunately, that’s all it is. A start. Until manufacturers stop adding unnecessary amounts of sugar to their products, our kids (or anyone else who drinks them) are suffering harm in the name of industry profits.

And if companies won’t start slashing sugar from their products voluntarily, then the government needs to step in and do it for them. Because the bottom line is sugar kills. And it’s way past time someone in charge actually did something to stop it.