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Better late than never: some fruit juices rated below some soft drinks in a revised healthy star rating

In the latest revision to the healthy star rating guidelines in Australia, fruit juices will be rated based on their sugar levels, and so will lose their automatic 5-stars rating when they’re 100% juice. About time these are recognized for the processed sugary treat they are.

Fruit juices moment of reckoning (in Australia)

In another example of our views regarding some foods or practices going more mainstream, the decision to rate some fruit juices below soft drinks on the Australian healthy star rating guides just been confirmed. Instead of being automatically awarded 5 stars because they are 100% natural without added sugar, some fruit juices with not much sugar contents will still rate 4 stars (our of 5 stars) while the juices that contain the most sugar will rate 2.5 stars, regardless of whether they are 100% natural without added sugar. This would rate them below soft drinks like diet coke and has, predictably, the fruit producers and the government up in arms. But it has the backing of much of the medical world.

Health experts, including 2020 Australian of the Year Dr James Muecke, said it is time the country reckoned with the reality that fruit juice is “in essence, a soft drink, just not a bubbly one”. (SMH)

Just another sugary treat best avoided or minimized

So, what to make of this? First, it reinforces the fact that only water should be rated 5 stars, period. Anything else is a compromise. Incidentally, it’s now what will happen.

Now, are some fruit juices really worse than soft drinks? In terms of sugars, yes. In terms of additives, well, of course they aren’t. So you’re choosing the lesser of two evils if you limit your choices to them. Sugar creates a lot of negative and complex health issues but one that is straightforward, commonly accepted and sufficient to justify avoiding foods high in sugar is tooth decay.

But he [Matthew Hopcraft, CEO of the Australian Dental Association’s Victoria branch ] said juice was partly responsible for a third of children aged 2-5 having tooth decay in their baby teeth, and three in five children aged 12-14 having decay in their adult teeth.

The key takeaway, for me: it’s finally recognized, officially, that fruit juices are not much better than soft drinks health-wise and are best avoided or consumed only on rare special occasions. Yes, even those juices 100% made from organic fruits without anything else added. Our bodies just hasn’t evolved to cope with these, which are, evolutionary speaking, very new to them.

What’s so bad about them?

They’re made from varieties of fruits that have been selected by our agricultural industry to maximize their sugar content, making modern fruits much higher in sugar and lower in fibre than the natural fruits we evolved to forage in the wild. And juicing them removes all the fibres that slow down sugar absorption in the bloodstream through digestion. Health-wise, it’s not much better than sweets, except they’re all natural sweets so you do avoid ingesting additives.

It seems the panel of experts judges more important for us to avoid sugar than to avoid additives, and we agree. Hence the various star ratings for different juices based on their sugar content.

Treating fruit juices, even the best ones, as sugary treats best avoided or restricted to special occasions has been advocated for years by our community, underlining how unnatural these juices are fro our bodies and the impact of getting a direct sugar hit.

Transforming fruits into juices also consumes much more energy to essentially strip them of nutrients. So we consume a lot of energy and resources into growing nutritious fruits, and then instead of just eating them, we consume another lot of energy to transform them into a less nutrient sugary treat… Quite the opposite of what we’d want if we aim at a sustainable lifestyle.

Avoiding fruit juices: from the fringe to the mainstream

That position was often ridiculed as extreme. But like so many others, the official guidelines are now being aligned to the views long-supported by proponents of a lifestyle more in lines with what our bodies have evolved to expect. And we can only agree with Dr James Muecke’s parting advice:

“Let’s go back to celebrating oranges as a real food, a whole food, instead of a sugary juice,” he said.

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