Juices, even homemade, contain almost as much sugar and almost as many calories as a soft drink.
Experts explain the sugars present in fruit juice, even if it is freshly squeezed, are considered “free sugars”, which are involved in many chronic pathologies.
Intrinsic Sugar vs. Free sugar
Intrinsic sugar and free sugar are terms used to describe different types of sugars found in foods. Here’s the difference between the two:
- Intrinsic sugar: they are naturally occurring sugars that are an integral part of whole foods. They are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Other beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals generally accompany these sugars. When consumed as part of these whole foods, intrinsic sugars are considered to be a healthier option because they are typically consumed in lower quantities and come with additional nutritional benefits.
- Free sugar: Free sugars, on the other hand, refer to sugars added to foods or present in foods due to processing. They include sugars added during cooking or manufacturing (such as table sugar, honey, or syrups) and sugars naturally present in fruit juices, fruit concentrates, and smoothies. Free sugars can also include sugars released from whole foods when they are juiced, blended, crushed, and baked.
The distinction between intrinsic and free sugars is important because excessive consumption of free sugars, particularly in the form of added sugars, can have negative health effects. High intake of free sugars is associated with increased risks of obesity, dental cavities, and chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In contrast, sugars in their intrinsic form, as part of whole foods, are generally considered healthier because they are typically consumed in smaller amounts and come with additional nutrients and dietary fiber.
To make informed choices about sugar consumption, it’s important to read food labels and ingredient lists to identify added sugars and limit their intake. Recommendations from health organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), advise limiting the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake, or ideally to less than 5% for additional health benefits.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO): “Keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity, and tooth decay.
The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables and sugars naturally present in milk because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars.
Much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of free sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of free sugars.”
Natural fruit juices in children
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): “Children and adolescents continue to be the highest consumers of juice and juice drinks. Healthier beverage options are gaining popularity, including lower-calorie, unsweetened beverages, as well as those with perceived benefits from ingredients such as herbs and spices. Unfortunately, data revealed that children 2 to 18 years of age consume nearly half of their fruit intake as juice, which lacks dietary fiber and predisposes to excessive caloric intake”.
Fruit juices are not equivalent to natural fruits. One of the reasons is that they do not stimulate chewing. Fruit juices do not provide any nutritional advantage or imply an improvement in dietary habits over natural fruit.
There are serious suspicions that the current intake of juices may contribute to the current obesity epidemic. The most recent dietary guide for Americans, also concerned about the cases of obesity in the United States, recommends “moderation” concerning the consumption of 100% natural juices.
Recommendations by the AAP
- “Juice should not be introduced into the diet of infants before 12 months of age unless clinically indicated. The intake of juice should be limited to, at most, 4 ounces/day in toddlers 1 through 3 years of age and 4 to 6 ounces/day for children 4 through 6 years of age. For children 7 to 18 years of age, juice intake should be limited to 8 ounces or 1 cup of the recommended 2 to 2.5 cups of fruit servings per day.
- Toddlers should not be given juice from bottles or easily transportable covered cups that allow them to consume juice easily throughout the day. Toddlers should not be given juice at bedtime.
- Children should be encouraged to eat whole fruit to meet their recommended daily fruit intake and should be educated regarding the benefit of fiber intake and the longer time to consume the same kilocalories when consuming whole fruit compared with fruit juice.
- Families should be educated that, to satisfy fluid requirements, human milk and/or infant formula are sufficient for infants, and low-fat/nonfat milk and water are sufficient for older children.
- Consumption of unpasteurized juice products should be strongly discouraged in infants, children, and adolescents.
- In evaluating the risk of dental caries, pediatricians should routinely discuss the relationship between fruit juice and dental decay and determine the amount and means of juice consumption.
- Pediatricians should advocate for a reduction in fruit juice in the diets of young children and eliminate fruit juice in children with abnormal (poor or excessive) weight gain.
- Pediatricians should support policies that seek to reduce the consumption of fruit juice and promote the consumption of whole fruit by toddlers and young children (e.g., child care/preschools) already exposed to juices, including through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).”