Researchers found that fruit drinks, fruits juices and smoothies marketed to children contain 'unacceptably high' levels of sugar. The analysis showed that nearly half of the products contained sugar levels that are equal to a child's recommended daily sugar intake — a maximum of 19 grams or almost five teaspoons.
The research team examined 203 fruit drinks, smoothies and fruit juices sold in seven major supermarkets including Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury's, the Co-op, Marks and Spencer, Asda and Morrisons.
The team searched for added or naturally occurring sugars in the products and found that the average sugar content per 100 ml (3.4 fl. oz.) was seven grams. However, when it comes to smoothies and fruit juices, the average sugar content was considerably higher.
The average sugar content per 100 ml (3.4 fl. oz.) in the 21 fruit juices examined was a staggering 10.7 grams. As for the 24 smoothies analyzed, the average sugar content per 100 ml (3.4 fl. oz.) was a dizzying 13 grams.
"Most people assume, wrongly, that fruit juice is healthy and contains little free sugar," said study author Dr. Simon Capewell, a clinical epidemiology professor at the University of Liverpool.
Nearly 60 percent of all the products in the research could be flagged based on their sugar content alone. Moreover, 78 percent of the products had aspartame, a non-calorific sweetener.
The European Food Safety declared the sweetener safe for consumption; however, the findings suggest that reducing the total sweetness of the drinks is important in reducing and controlling the kid's cravings for sugar-loaded products.
The researchers said that eating real fruits do not bring the same sugar problems and highlighted the fruit's fiber content as one of the key differences between fruits and juice drinks.
"Whole fruit slows down consumption and has a satiating effect. Research shows the body metabolizes fruit juice in a different way compared to whole fruit," wrote the researchers.
The findings are expected to upset many parents who turned to these 'healthier options' as great alternatives to sugary fizzy drinks such as lemonades and sodas.
They recommend that these sugar-loaded fruit juices, smoothies and fruit drinks should not be counted in the government's "Five A Day" recommendation. They suggest diluting the fruit juices with water or going for the unsweetened variety. Limiting portions to 150 ml (5 fl. oz.) daily and giving it only during meal times were also recommended by the research team.
The findings came after Chancellor George Osborne announced the sugar tax on sugary drinks with an exemption for smoothies and fruit juices. The research was published in the BMJ Open journal on March 23.
Photo: F. D. Richards | Flickr