As a father of four children (soon to be five), I worry about what I feed them; I know how vital it is to give them five a day and also limit the amount of processed foods they eat.
And as a relatively older parent, I also worry about my diet, knowing that I need to stay healthy to be there for my kids as they grow. I am aware that the same rules of healthy eating apply to me.
But every month there is another news story that confuses me even more about what we should and shouldn’t do when it comes to feeding ourselves and our children.
Fruit juice can count as one of your five a day, according to the NHS.
Researchers in Canada have recently suggested that fresh fruit juice could be worse for you than diet sodas.
However, a few weeks ago, a study by researchers in Canada made headlines, with newspaper reports and television news suggesting that drinking fresh fruit juice could be worse for you than drinking diet soda.
Confused? In fact, in the light of day, when we look behind the headlines, I don’t think it’s necessary to ditch fresh orange juice for a 12-pack of Diet Coke; I certainly won’t change my teenagers’ juice. for a can of diet soda.
Especially since news reports deemed soda to be “healthier” because it has less sugar, and that’s because it contains artificial sweeteners, which are worse in my opinion (but more on that later).
The article was written by scientists from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto, who reviewed two types of research: 23 cohort studies and 19 randomized controlled trials in both adults and children.
Cohort studies are a type of observational study in which researchers watch people’s behavior (for example, how much fruit juice they drink) and find out what has happened to them.
In studies with children, scientists looked at what happened to their body mass index (BMI); and for those over 18, what happened to their weight.
A Canadian study suggests that drinks like Diet Coke are healthier because they contain less sugar than fruit juice
One of the problems with these types of studies is that you can’t be sure that the variable you observed (for example, fruit juice) is the cause of the outcome you are interested in (for example, weight gain).
Therefore, these studies are often thought to be inferior to randomized controlled trials, which involve randomly assigning a group of people to an intervention, such as drinking fruit juice, and comparing them to those who did not drink fruit juice.
So what did these studies show and what do they tell us about how to stay healthy?
Results from cohort studies in children, involving more than 45,000 participants, over periods ranging from eight months to ten years, revealed that overall, children’s BMI increased by 0.03 for every 250 ml of fruit juice consumed per day.
But are these results really significant? If the results had shown an increase in BMI of 3 (instead of 0.03), then this would be cause for concern.
But a 0.03 increase in BMI is roughly equivalent to 50 to 100 grams of additional weight.
The scientists then did something called “subgroup analysis”: They divided the children into those under 11 and those older.
This showed that in the 11+ age group, rather than increasing their BMI, it actually decreased by 0.001 for every extra 250ml of fruit juice consumed per day (although, again, this is negligible).
However, if you were younger, your BMI increased by 0.15 for every 250 ml of fruit juice you drank.
According to my children’s observations and what happens to the fruit juice in the refrigerator if I don’t keep a close eye on them, children can drink up to a liter a day.
In some studies, drinking a small amount of so-called superfood pomegranate juice daily was found to lead to weight loss.
This would mean that their BMI could increase by 0.6 and they would weigh between 1 and 3 kg more. But that doesn’t mean juice is unhealthy and soda is fine.
And what the researchers didn’t do was look at the impact on children of drinking artificially sweetened beverages.
Regarding adults, cohort studies showed that those who drank more than 250 ml of fruit juice per day weighed 0.2 kg more than those who did not drink fruit juice, which they could show was due to the extra calories from fruit. juice.
But interestingly, randomized controlled studies showed that when people consumed only 250 ml of fruit juice a day, it led to weight loss.
And even more fascinating was the fact that fruit juices like apple, orange, and grape led to weight gain, while so-called “superfood” juices, like pomegranate, led to weight loss.
So why did these studies show that a glass of juice led to weight loss despite those extra calories?
In many of the trials, non-fruit juice drinkers were given low-sugar (i.e. diet) alternative drinks that contained artificial sweeteners. We used to think they were harmless, but recent data shows how wrong we were.
Although individual studies have shown conflicting results, a 2017 analysis of studies in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that instead of helping us lose weight, diet drinks actually led to weight gain.
How can that happen when you reduce the amount of calories you drink? The answer was found in studies with rats, which showed that the part of the brain involved in controlling how much you eat was damaged by ingesting artificial sweeteners and therefore more calories were consumed overall.
Professor Rob advises limiting fruit juices in the diet of children under 11 years old so that they do not get used to very sweet drinks
But it’s not just about the sweeteners. Many diet drinks are carbonated, and a study in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice in 2017 showed that drinking carbonated drinks leads to higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
This may explain why a reduction in the amount of sugar in drinks is not having the expected impact on obesity.
A sugar tax was introduced in 2018, causing many drinks to be reformulated with less sugar and more sweeteners, as well as causing more people to drink diet versions of their favorite drinks. Since then, more than 45,000 tonnes of sugar have been removed from soft drinks in the UK.
However, obesity rates continue to rise, possibly because sweeteners and diet versions of drinks are pushing people to consume more calories overall.
The bottom line is this: the new Canadian study shows that small amounts of fruit juice are completely safe and have very little impact on the weight of those over 11 years of age. However, in children under 11 years of age it can cause some weight gain if they drink more than one glass a day.
The fact is, in small quantities, juice is beneficial as it contains vital vitamins and nutrients; The NHS says 150ml of juice can count as one of your five a day.
But because the fiber in the fruit is pulverized when you squeeze it, too much juice can increase your blood sugar levels, and if you drink more than one glass a day, the benefits of the vitamins and nutrients are negated by the negative effects of the sugar rush (including weight gain).
There’s another reason to be cautious, at least with kids: introducing sweet flavors at a younger age encourages them to want more sugary foods as they get older, so I’d consider trying to limit fruit juices in those under 11. .
But obviously, don’t replace them with high-sugar carbonated drinks or, even worse, diet carbonated drinks or drinks full of artificial sweeteners, in the belief that “less sugar” is better.
These drinks can also cause weight gain on their own and are not a healthy alternative.
At home I have replaced the copious amounts of fruit juices and diet drinks I used to drink (thinking they would be healthy) and now drink water and eat fruit.
From time to time I also drink a glass of fruit juice.
I think it has helped me lose a few kilos and the scientific evidence backs me up!