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Is That Right? Better-for-you fruit drinks?

The current anti-soda climate, coupled with consumers' clamoring for health-enhancing foods, has created a market for fortified fruit juices.


On the face of things, these drinks look like nutrition powerhouses, with labels that claim they deliver some substantial portion of your daily fruit needs or provide a whopping dose of nutrients such as Vitamin C.

But such products often are concocted from blends of fruit juices that somehow have been divorced from the nutrients they once may have contained and are fortified with ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C, and other add-in nutrients.

Two such products recently caught my eye.

Last week my teenaged daughter, who works in her school's snack store, came home all jazzed up about a new drink they're selling called The Switch. It's great, she told me, because it's 100-percent fruit juice with no added sugar, and it's carbonated! In her mind, that adds up to a nutritious drink with the bubbly benefit of soda. The Switch's Web site notes the beverage is all natural, contains no corn syrup and provides a full day's supply of Vitamin C.

And last night I saw a TV commercial for Capri Sun's new Sunrise breakfast pouches. The box says they're "for a nutritious start to the morning" and their Web site calls them a "wholesome morning drink for kids." The ad calls attention to the Vitamin C and calcium the drink supplies.

Both beverages are fortified with ascorbic acid. The Switch weighs in at about 120 to 140 calories (depending on which of the nine varieties you choose) for 8.3 ounces. Capri Sun has 60 calories per 6-ounce (177 ml) pouch. In addition to providing 100 percent of the Daily Value for Vitamin C, Capri Sun, which comes in three flavors, contains 10 percent of the calcium DV.

So why do I favor one (though slightly) over the other?

Because of the kind of beverages they are likely to displace.

The Switch, invented nearly a decade ago but available locally at just a handful of stores in DC and a dozen or so throughout Maryland, recently has been seeking a share of the high-school beverage market by cleverly filling a niche. Even as sweetened sodas have become nearly nonexistent in schools (after a three-year industry-led campaign that's met with remarkable success), fortified fruit juices that can claim some nutritional value still are allowed to be sold there (though not as part of reimbursable school lunches).

The Switch's Vitamin C kick, coupled with the lack of ill-regarded ingredients such as added sugar and high fructose corn syrup, earns it a spot in venues such as my daughter's school store. While not itself a big contributor to the day's nutrition, The Switch is likely to replace icky sweetened sodas--which have no nutritional value at all--in a teen's diet. Still, a calorie is a calorie, and The Switch has plenty of those.

On the other hand, the kid who breaks fast with Capri Sun Sunrise is likely drinking that liquid instead of orange juice, milk, or another beverage that comes by its nutrients naturally. Give me a glass of o.j., with its 120 percent of Vitamin C and 110 calories per 8 ounces, or a cup of milk, with about a third of the DV for calcium and about 100 calories (in the 1 percent fat variety).

As a side note, I'm inclined not to like Capri Sun Sunrise just for the premise of its TV ad, which shows a busy-busy cartoon mom rushing through her triple-tasking morning routine. I resent the suggestion that handing a pouch of juice to a kid saves a busy parent any time over pouring a civilized glassful from a jug or carton and, by extension, the implication that the kid's likely to drink from that pouch in the car on the way to school or daycare. But that's just me.

Follow me and the other Local Living writers on Twitter at @wposthome/local-living. And keep track of my "Me Minus 10" effort to lose 10 pounds before I turn 50 at twitter.com/jhuget.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  March 12, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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Next: Coffee's clean bill of health

Comments

Funny, I had exactly the same reaction -- it's not just about the new product, but about what they're marketing the product to replace. Breakfast seems to be the one meal that is not inundated with faux-drink options, so breaching that barrier is a big thing for me. If you absolutely need to do breakfast in the car, there are plenty of prepackaged plain juices or milk already on the market.

On the flip side, my family has now gotten hooked on the V8 Fusion line. I started it -- was looking for a lower-carb, less acidic vitamin C source and found the mango "lite" version. DD went nuts, and loves them all -- she now keeps the blueberry version as "her" special juice. But, hey, she's 8, and she'd normally just be drinking apple juice at dinner, so I figure this isn't any worse -- at least a there's a little bit of veggie in there.

Posted by: laura33 | March 12, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Hi, laura33:

I have to say that my kids, too, are hooked on V8 Fusion; they just tried the new passionfruit/tangerine variety this morning and loved it. But we approach it with eyes wide open: it's a treat, and not a substitute for the fruits and vegetables they need to eat. It's all about balance, right? Thanks for reading The Checkup and for your always interesting comments!

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | March 12, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, Jennifer, we also do the "treat" thing -- at the grocery store, I usually let her pick one thing, and the V8 Fusion is frequently what she chooses. I figure that's way better than "froot roll-ups" or other total crap that she would otherwise pick (getting back to the whole "what is it displacing?" question). :-)

Posted by: laura33 | March 12, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

"Still, a calorie is a calorie, and The Switch has plenty of those."

Just so we're clear here, The Switch ranges from 120-140 calories.

Go to any online calorie counter and look up the calorie count for 8.3 ounces of raw oranges (I used CalorieKing). It looks like the fresh fruit is about 110-120 calories, so this juice is only 0-30 calories more, depending on the variety you buy.

The fresh fruit is still going to be better for you, simply because it's fresh, but the caloric difference can probably be worked off with a ten minute walk.

Posted by: dkp01 | March 12, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Laura, Jennifer,

I know regular V8 has tons of sodium in it. I'm not sure about Fusion but you should check....

Posted by: cmecyclist | March 12, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

hope these companies aren't buying cheap ascorbic acid from China that is contaminated with lead

Posted by: tartare | March 13, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Hi Jennifer and Rob, great article. One thing to keep in mind as these 'soda replacements' proliferate is that the FDA allows any beverage "...with more than zero percent juice..." to use the words "fruit drink" on the label. I kid you not, here is the relevant regulation:
http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=f8be65fc48d8ae899c01ddccb09226bb&rgn=div8&view=text&node=21:2.0.1.1.3.2.1.5&idno=21

If you watch the 'angry mom' or 'angry bodega owner' anti soda tax ads, you'll see they slip in the term 'juice drinks'.
This is a calculated attempt to make viewers think that juices would be taxed too.

I have written the FDA's consumer info email address asking how the above reg was crafted(industry insiders?) three times in the past six months. So far, no answer. Maybe this is worthy of a journalist's attention??

Posted by: trblmkr1 | March 13, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Hi Jennifer and Rob, great article. One thing to keep in mind as these 'soda replacements' proliferate is that the FDA allows any beverage "...with more than zero percent juice..." to use the words "fruit drink" on the label. I kid you not, here is the relevant regulation:
http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=f8be65fc48d8ae899c01ddccb09226bb&rgn=div8&view=text&node=21:2.0.1.1.3.2.1.5&idno=21

If you watch the 'angry mom' or 'angry bodega owner' anti soda tax ads, you'll see they slip in the term 'juice drinks'.
This is a calculated attempt to make viewers think that juices would be taxed too.

I have written the FDA's consumer info email address asking how the above reg was crafted(industry insiders?) three times in the past six months. So far, no answer. Maybe this is worthy of a journalist's attention??

Posted by: trblmkr1 | March 13, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I meant "juice drinkO on the label. D'oh!

Posted by: trblmkr1 | March 13, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

All this talk about juice and calories...but where is the consideration about fiber?

Posted by: kwoodgr | March 15, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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