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Hey parents, surprise, fruit juice is not fruit

To the American food industry, fruit juice is profitable, fruit is not

KJ Dell’antonia | NYT 

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Many American children consume more than half of their fruit as juice, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued new guidelines clarifying its stance on that substitution: For most kids, it’s a bad thing.

The new guidelines aren’t just intended to persuade to talk to parents about the disadvantages of the ubiquitous juice box. They also take aim at the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are the basis for the nutritional guidelines in the Department of Agriculture’s School Lunch Program — guidelines that allow for the replacement of half of the recommended daily servings of fruits with 100 percent fruit juice, a substitution that has been enthusiastically embraced by the food and beverage industry and school nationwide.

Language in the Dietary Guidelines points back to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ earlier recommendations with respect to (last updated in 2001), which could best be described as disgruntled acceptance of a fruit-juice-for-fruit substitution. In them, the academy danced around the question of whether whole fruit was better for children than its juice, backing gently up to the issue by noting that juice “offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit” while at the same time accepting the inclusion of a significant amount of juice in the diets of children over 6 months of age. Juice, they said, was fine if served as part of a snack or meal, although “easily overconsumed” especially if offered in an easily transportable form that encouraged consumption throughout the day.

That call to moderation didn’t work. To the American food industry, is profitable, fruit is not. Companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Nestlé took the American Academy of Pediatrics’ dubious endorsement of and ran with it, competing to offer 100 percent in more and more easily transportable forms, from boxes to pouches to disposable bottles that can be topped with a reuseable favorite cartoon character’s head. Juice consumption among all children in the age range of 6 months to 5 years old went up while milk consumption went down, especially by infants and children in lower-income families. American consumer parents, urged on by enthusiastic advertising, became even more likely to offer their kids what they were assured was “equivalent to one serving of fruit.”

School also embraced the juice-instead-of-fruit plan.

Juices and juice products offer the same advantages over whole fruits for schools as they do for parents: They’re convenient, require no preparation and can be consumed quickly. Those are qualities Americans have been taught to love. Give us an inch (by appearing to “recommend” juice) and we will take a mile because it’s so easy to toss a juice box to our kids on the go instead of peeling, slicing or washing whole fruits and sitting down to appreciate them. And there’s a lot of money in the form of marketing and lobbying out there designed to encourage us to do just that.

The new guidelines reveal the American Academy of Pediatrics’ distaste for having been implicated in that scheme. Not only do they dial back on the amount of juice advised for children at all ages and reject its substitution for fruit for children under 6, but they add something entirely new, declaring that should advocate less fruit juice, both with parents and patients and as national policy. The goal is one everyone should endorse: more whole fruits, less juice, for every child, every day, everywhere.

The American Academy of Pediatrics stops short of condemning 100 percent fruit juice, because a little is fine. can be delicious, another way to experience fruits and their flavors, to expand children’s palates and to help them enjoy fresh foods. It can be, the academy still says, a healthy part of an otherwise well-balanced diet. Or it can be a corporate amalgamation of the most cheaply available and sweetest juices, labeled to emphasize the more expensive and exotic ingredients and offered up with a blitz of reassuring but ultimately meaningless phrases like “all natural” and “no artificial ingredients.”

There lies the problem. Between our national love of convenience and the advertising might of the food industry, can’t recommend a strategy of balance unless they also speak up against the inevitable tipping of the scales toward ease and profit. At a time when the federal government is relaxing its nutrition requirements for children, providers need to become advocates not just for patients but also for policy. They need to help us to see when someone out there is O.K. with our kids “eating crap” and to ask ourselves why — and then to resist the forces that push us away from what we know to be the better choices.

When we substitute juice for fruit, at home or at school, we’re cheating children out of the healthful diet they need to thrive in the name of convenience and consumerism. is not fruit, and we’ve been fooling ourselves for too long.
© 2017 The New York Times New Service

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