Juice is junk food

Perhaps in response to my rant about marketers and bloggers, I received an email yesterday inviting me to join #WelchsGrape Twitter Party! The purpose of this “party” is to spread the idea “Moms can help their families live a heart healthy lifestyle with Welch’s 100% Grape juice made with Concord Grapes.”

One easy and delicious way to add more purple to your family’s diet is to drink 4-oz. of grape juice, which offers a full serving (1/2 cup) of fruit and no added sugar.

This is pretty disingenuous. Grape juice is loaded with natural sugar. I can’t even imagine how you’d drink it if they added sugar. A 64 oz bottle of Welch’s Grape Juice contains 8 8 fl oz. servings. Each 8 fl oz serving (1 cup) contains 40 grams of sugar. One can of Pepsi (335 ml or ~1 1/2 US cups) contains 40 grams of sugar.

40 grams of sugar next to a Pepsi, image from funnyz

Think about that: 1 cup of grape juice is basically 1 can of Pepsi. Official US Guidelines advise a maximum of 40 grams refined sugar for every 2000 calories consumed per day. So give your kid even 1/2 cup of grape juice and you’ve given them more than half the sugar maximum an adult should consume as day. This isn’t right because the guideline is for added sugar, like when you see “sugar” in the ingredients list for tomato sauce. Grape juice has no added sugar, but it’s concentrated to make it sweeter. There is no guideline for how much naturally-occurring sugar you should ingest.

It’s hart to believe any possible heart benefits associated with grape juice outweigh the risks of ingesting so much sugar (with none of the fiber or slower digestive process to access it that you get from eating whole fruit rather than mainlining juice!) If you haven’t yet read Is Sugar Toxic?, get thee to the New York Times post haste:

The fructose component of sugar and H.F.C.S. is metabolized primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by every cell in the body. Consuming sugar (fructose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose). And if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda or fruit juices — the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in an apple (or several apples, to get what researchers would call the equivalent dose of sugar). The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes the fructose and glucose.

In animals, or at least in laboratory rats and mice, it’s clear that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers.

The whole article is worth a read. Then you can decide for yourself if filling your kids with juice is “heart-healthy” and if you want to join the Twitter party to spread the word. Or you can crash the party with me (if naps coordinate with party time) and point people to some sane information about kids and sugar.

And I don’t even want to get started on the idea that drinking juice counts as a serving of fruit! That’s about as specious as ketchup being a vegetable.

7 thoughts on “Juice is junk food

  1. Saw this headline on Stellar. Wondered if you’d mention that Times story. Pretty eye-opening. Sad that juice is not as healthful as you’d think, since I (used to) like to guzzle it as an alternative to Coke. Looked to see if anyone crashed the twitter party. Doesn’t look like it.

  2. Thanks for this. You are so right! I have been reading about a big Australian blogger’s decision to quit sugar for good. It’s all been very inspiring. Thanks for adding another sane voice to the cacophony of crazy marketing.

  3. I knew this day would come. A year and a half ago, I gave up soda. In its place, I’ve increased my water and juice intake. I’ve been a grape juice junkie since I was in short pants so the transition to a soda-free world was mostly easy. Admittedly, I knew that grape juice wasn’t the best replacement as it was loaded with sugar as well. But I chose to ignore the specifics (forced ignorance is bliss, right?) with the assumption that it may be bad but it’s not worse than soda. And then I read this post and before I could avert my eyes, I was presented with the cold, hard, sugary, truth.
    Sad, really. But I thank you for forcing me to come to terms with my GJ addiction. I suppose I can cut back even further – with water and the occasional snort of kerosene to get me through the day. Although now I’m concerned that you’ll point out that too much water can be unhealthy for us as well.

  4. Wow! I have noticed a lot of push to drink juice, even when I was pregnant. Lots of advice to not eat so much extra, because one only needs around 200 calories or something, “so have a glass of juice.” Infuriating! As a pregnant lady, I wanted food not juice.

  5. Yes but one small no – the 40 g of sugar in grape juice is not ADDED sugar. Everything contains sugar (milk, vegetables, etc. – it’s just a type of carbohydrate), so it’s misleading to say that a glass of grape juice uses up any portion of those 40 g of allotted added sugars. Use those up on the HFCS-laden ketchup, salsa, etc. that you’re eating as vegetables 😉
    Bottled juice is nutritionally useless, so I agree with your overall post. Plus, big bottlers like Welch’s often sweeten with juice concentrates, which should qualify as added sugars but usually go below the radar.

  6. @Elizabeth Of course you’re right! I’ll make a clarification to the post. It’s kind of ridiculous there’s no guideline for total sugar, I suppose because of this exact issue. Added refined sugars are more troubling than naturally-occurring ones and how do you count them fairly?

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