No, you haven't entered the Twilight Zone, but didn't I tell you that we are turning everything we know about health and nutrition on its head? Nothing is sacred; nothing is safe. Especially not juice.
52-10 is a health initiative run by Go For Health! of Santa Cruz. It's campaign is designed to promote a healthier lifestyle and reduce childhood obesity rates. While you'd have to be crazy not to see the benefit in 5 or more fruits and veggies a day, 2 hours or less of screen time (tv, computer, or video game), 1 hour or more of vigorous exercise, and 0 soda or sugar sweetened beverages, not everyone understands that last prescription. What exactly are "sugar sweetened beverages"? Does that just mean artificial sugar or do natural sugars fit in this equation?
My argument is that fruit juice is no different than soda to your body, or your child's body. Surprising? Of course it is! This is a HUGE blow to the fruit juice industry creating "healthy" alternatives to soda and their kin. This is also a touchy subject for parents who wouldn't dream of letting their kids drink soda and yet fuel them with juice (even 100% juice) at every opportunity. Just. As. Bad.
The Straight Juice
I know this comes as a shock. Who hasn't chosen 100% juice over those inferior sugar-sweetened ones with the self-satisfaction of being a mindful, informed, better-than-the-masses consumer? Who hasn't felt better about themselves for choosing Jamba Juice over other fast food? I know I have. We all know that soda is the devil, energy drinks are its mutated offspring, and fruit juice is natural and full of the "good" stuff. We ALL know this. But we are being duped. They are really no different, especially if you overload on the juice thinking it's the best choice.
Why so bad? Anything easy comes with a price. There is a cost to convenience. Processed foods are easier than home-cooked, but we know they are not on par nutritionally and come with the burden of additives and preservatives. Drinking juice is so much easier, more convenient, and more instantly gratifying than dirtying ourselves with actually eating a piece of fruit. But it comes with a price. Not only does juicing a fruit take away its satiating fiber that keeps you from eating a bushel of apples at one sitting, but it also strips the nutrients found in the original fruit. According to Mark's Daily Apple, calorie for calorie, juice contains more sugar than the fruit itself. You can easily drink more sugar than you could ever hope to eat in whole fruit. Juice's lack of fiber allows its sugars to spike your blood sugar since there is no fiber-mediated regulation of digestion that you get when you eat the whole fruit. Okay, so more sugar and less nutrition. "Yeah, yeah," you say. These are "pretty obvious" said in the most smug Professor Gilderoy Lockhart voice. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
That Pesky Juice Stain
Of course we all know that despite the bogus "okay in moderation" campaign of high fructose corn syrup producers, HFCS is the ultimate evil. But fruit is another source of fructose, and it is not as benign as we may think. The short story: there is a deadly cycle of fructose leading to fat storage and telling your brain you are still hungry.
For example, fructose has the opposite effect of glucose on the hypothalamus section of the brain controlling feeding behavior. While blood glucose levels are sensed by the brain and signal a secession to eating, fructose bypasses this metabolic step and actually promotes food intake to continue instead of signaling an end to eating. That's terrifying! More dangers to kids from drinking juice are highlighted in this article from ScienceDaily, namely: increased risk of obesity (Note: this is a point of contention with studies citing evidence for and against), heart disease, high blood pressure, cavities, bone fractures, and impeded growth. Lastly, and I can personally attest to this fact that just like fructose can desensitize your insulin, it can desensitize your taste for sugary foods, requiring more sugary foods to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Interlude: Perhaps we should have taken Ben Franklin's rants more seriously: "Hot things, sharp things, sweet things, cold things All rot the teeth and make them look like old things."
So, how does it fructose metabolism work? Basically, fructose goes to your liver for processing. Fructose undergoes enzyme reactions in the liver leading to glycogen synthesis (to replenish liver glycogen storage, its energy source) and triglyceride (fat) synthesis once the glycogen stores are filled up. Triglycerides are released into the bloodstream and some become incorporated into very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs), the precursor to small, dense LDL particles that are the baddest of the bad. Here is a technical article on fructose metabolism, another that's a little more digestible, and wikipedia's layman summary.
Believe it or not, excessive fruit and fruit juice can lead to higher risk of gout, as this study shows. Notice, not only soft drink consumption, but fruit and fruit juice consumption lead to this increased risk. Gout is a painful joint swelling as joint tissues accumulate crystals of uric acid, a by-product of overloaded fructose metabolism in your liver. Uric acid also promotes insulin resistance, meaning cells become desensitized to insulin and it takes higher and higher levels of insulin to do its job: getting glucose from the blood into the cells. Too much glucose or insulin in the blood is toxic, and the burden to produce more and more insulin to elicit an effect is taxing on the pancreas.
Now take a deep breath, and continue down the rabbit hole with me.
Not only does high fructose intake increase the risk of gout, but it can more direly lead to a fatty liver, known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disorder (NAFLD), whose long-term effects are not yet known. We do know that NAFLD can progress into more dangerous liver inflammation, which has been linked to liver cancer and cirrhosis, so they seem to be a possibility here too. Another complication of NAFLD is insulin resistance (yes, that again).
And don't go thinking that table sugar is much better than fructose because table sugar is fructose bound to glucose in the form of sucrose, and the fructose portion is what leads to problems. Fructose is a fructose is a fructose, no matter the source: sugar, HFCS, or fruit.
Fructose, according to Robert Lustig, a pediatric neuroendocrinologist, is a poison. Above is a great (albeit LONG) presentation on the evils of fructose. He cites studies that show fruit juice intake leads to increased risk of obesity and type II diabetes. He argues that fructose leads to hypertension (high blood pressure), myocardial infarction (heart attack), dyslipidemia (elevated fats in the blood), pancreatitis (inflamed or infected pancreas), obsesity, hepatic (liver) disfunction, fetal insulin resistance, and habituation if not addiction. All of these serious health problems are also associated with alcohol which is metabolized the exact same way by the body, causing Lustig to call fructose "alcohol without the buzz."
This is actually a very fitting analogy because, in my personal experience, overloading on carbohydrates without much protein or fat makes me feel literally drunk. I get dizzy, giddy, and light-headed just from sweet BBQ-slathered ribs and side of sweet potato fries and cole slaw. Seriously. Lame. Godforbid I actually consume alcohol! One drink and I am sloshed. Can you say cheap date?
Knowledge is Power: What's the Next Step?
- Get rid of every sugared liquid in the house. Kids should drink only water and milk.
- Provide carbohydrates associated with fiber.
- Wait 20 minutes before serving second portions.
- Have kids buy their “screen time” minute-for-minute with physical activity.
Robb Wolf's suggestion: ditch some of those high energy carbs and replace them with fat to avoid becoming an Always Hungry Carb Crash Zombie (AHCCZ). According to his article "42 Ways to Skin the Zone," an AHCCZ is getting too many carbs too often. While low-carb diets (as long as they are rich in protein and fat) create satiation and reduced hunger, carbohydrate-rich diets (say like the one promoted by the USDA food pyramid???) increase hunger. The answer? Reduce high density carbohydrate sources in your diet (i.e. grains (duh), starches, high glycemic fruits, and any fruit juice since they are ALL high glycemic) by replacing some with fat and making less energy dense carbohydrates like veggies your go-to's. Lean meats, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and NO sugar, NO grains, NO dairy, and NO legumes actually works. Believe me.
Finally, read labels. Don't buy anything with high fructose corn syrup and its guises: isoglucose, maize syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, and glucose/fructose. Also avoid any added sweeteners like:
sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, crystallized fructose, dextrin, honey, invert sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, corn sweeteners, evaporated cane juice, glucose-fructose, granulated fructose, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, malt, molasses, and turbinado sugar.
And guess what? Sorry to burst the "all natural" sweetener bubble, but agave nectar is essentially high fructose corn syrup. Even though it sports a low glycemic index and may be all natural, it is still fructose to your body and a nice, high, concentrated source of it. Sorry. Here are some arguments against agave as a "natural" sweetener.
In conclusion: make fruit juice a rare treat, if a treat at all. Instead: eat the whole fruit. You are unlikely to overeat the real, whole fruit filled with its nutrients and fiber. Also, just as important: eat plenty of vegetables--DO NOT make fruit your only or major carbohydrate source!
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot
Can't stand cold water this chilly time of year or just hate its plain, wet taste? Try tea! Try brewing tea and NOT adding any sugar or milk. Dare you! First, try fruity herbal teas (or "infusions" as my husband would correct me since they lack tea leaves). The dried fruit adds a sweetness that will get you over your sugar hump. Next, try all different kinds of infusions and teas until you find some you like and can stand without the sweetener. As with all things processed, the less processing the better, so loose leaf is preferable to tea bag, with regard to taste too. Always check the labels to avoid soy, corn, wheat, and sugar that wheedle their way into everything.
I found unsweetened tea to be a great way to gain back my sense of sweetness and love of undiluted flavor. Try it hot or chilled! In fact, I am going to get a steaming mug right now...
Instead of ending with a recipe, let me feed your mind:
With crimson juice the thirsty southern sky
Sucks from the hills where buried armies lie,
So that the dreamy passion it imparts
Is drawn from heroes' bones and lovers' hearts.
--Oliver Wendell Holmes