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Florida Department of Citrus seeks to 'educate' scientists about the value of orange juice

November 25, 2009 | 12:09 pm

Apparently, the Florida citrus industry has a thin skin. When we reported earlier this month that many scientists have come to the conclusion that 100% fruit juice isn’t much healthier than soda, growers took notice.

To recap, here are some of the eerie similarities between fruit juice and soda:

A glass of juice concentrates all the sugar from several pieces of fruit. Ounce per ounce, it contains more calories than soda, though it tends to be consumed in smaller servings. A cup of orange juice has 112 calories, apple juice has 114, and grape juice packs 152, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The same amount of Coke has 97 calories, and Pepsi has 100. And just like soft drinks, juice is rich in fructose -- the simple sugar that does the most to make food sweet.

Juice Of course, fruit juice has many vitamins and minerals, but these are generally not lacking in the modern American diet. Besides, the healthier way to get them is to eat the fruit itself instead of drinking juice.

These facts have left many experts wondering why campaigns to impose taxes on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages in the name of fighting obesity have neglected to target juice as well. As Dr. Charles Billington, an appetite researcher at the University of Minnesota, put it, juice “is pretty much the same as sugar water.”

That’s not how orange growers in Florida see things. To make their views known, the Florida Department of Citrus enlisted dietitian Gail Rampersaud to inform the experts quoted in our story about the virtues of orange juice. Several copies were delivered Tuesday.

Written on letterhead from the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Science’s Food Science and Human Nutrition department, where Rampersaud is a nutrition research and education assistant, the letter points out that:

•  One hundred percent orange juice is a natural source of essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients needed for a lifetime of good health. In fact, one 8-ounce glass counts as a fruit serving and can contribute to almost 25 percent of your USDA-recommended daily fruit and vegetable servings, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

•  An 8-ounce serving of orange juice is an excellent source of vitamin C and provides at least 100% of the Daily Value for this important antioxidant. A recent analysis of NHANES data reports that 60 percent of adult men and 53 percent of adult women had dietary vitamin C intakes less than the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) established by the Institute of Medicine and over 22 percent of adults had plasma vitamin C concentrations that put them at moderate risk of developing vitamin C deficiency. In addition to being rich in vitamin C, an 8-ounce serving of 100 percent orange juice is a good source of thiamin, potassium and folate and delivers other important nutrients such as vitamin B6 and magnesium.

•  Citrus juices are nutrient-dense and provide a high ratio of nutrients relative to their calorie content. A study that I conducted and published in the Journal of Food Science reported that 100 percent orange juice was more nutrient-dense than many commonly consumed 100 percent fruit juices, such as apple, grape, pineapple and prune.

•  Citrus fruit and juices, including 100 percent orange juice, are free of added sugars and contain only the natural sugars found in whole fruit. A comprehensive review of studies regarding 100% fruit juice intake and increased weight in children and adolescents reported that the preponderance of evidence does not support such an association. In fact, this review suggested that consuming 100% fruit juice in moderate amounts “may be an important strategy to help children meet the current recommendations for fruit.”

•  A recent analysis of NHANES 1999-2002 data reported that 50% of children age 2-5, 74% of children age 6-11, and 81% of adolescents age 12-18 are not meeting MyPyramid fruit intake recommendations based on a single day’s dietary intake. An evaluation of the same NHANES data reported that 100% fruit juice intake was associated with higher daily intakes of whole fruit in children age 2-11 years. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines include moderate intakes of 100 percent fruit juice (i.e., 4-6 ounces per day for children age 1-6 years and 8-12 ounces per day for older children). One hundred percent fruit juice can help children get the nutrients they need and help meet fruit intake recommendations.

•  While it is true that the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that the majority of fruit choices should be whole fruit, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee did recognize the nutritional value of including 100% fruit juice in the diet for providing nutrients such as vitamin C, folate, and potassium. The Committee concluded that the “recommended intake of fruits and juices achieve an optimal balance” with regard to meeting nutrient intake recommendations.

The letter failed to impress at least one researcher, who forwarded it on to us. (We posted it with Rampersaud’s permission.)

Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UC San Francisco, was quoted in the story saying, “The upside of juice consumption is so infinitesimal compared to the downside that we shouldn't even be having this discussion." Here is his response to Rampersaud (also posted with his permission):

Thank you for your letter. As it is stated in the Kaplan article, I am not against fruit. As far as I am concerned, the most important nutrient contained in fruit (not just citrus, but any fruit) is fiber. "The juice is Nature's way of getting you to eat your fiber." Thus, I am not against fruit; indeed I am for it. So the Florida Department of Citrus can rest easy in terms of the citrus crop.

Unfortunately, juice has no fiber. Just calories, of which half are fructose. I am attaching an article I wrote on the Fructose Epidemic demonstrating the difficulties in hepatic metabolism from fructose, and another article I co-wrote with the American Heart Association remanding the American public to reduce its consumption of fructose. As you can see, I am not the only one who thinks this is a problem.

The problem is not with fruit, but with juice. Juice is merely a method of decreasing depreciation and increasing profits for the food industry. For if you take the most important nutrient and throw it in the garbage, what person does that benefit?

So, if you are a representative of the citrus growers, you should be in my camp, and should applaud my research and my stance. Fruit affords all the micronutrients you highlight, affords you fiber, and reduces your consumption of fructose (1 orange has one fourth the calories of a cup of orange juice). If, on the other hand, you are merely a shill for the food processing industry, then I will be happy to battle you and your entire industry in an open forum. I welcome the challenge.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Why drink juice when you can eat fruit? Credit: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times

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