Fruit juice industry challenges anti-sugar message

Friend or foe: Robyn Lawley likes her juice.

Friend or foe: Robyn Lawley likes her juice.

Friend or foe: Robyn Lawley likes her juice.

Friend or foe: Robyn Lawley likes her juice.

As we’re milling around waiting for the presentation to start, waiters offer fruit juice or water.

I look around the room and notice the majority have bypassed the juice-heavy tray for one of the waters at the back.

We are here at an event put on by Fruit Juice Australia to hear from the CSIRO about new research that will, according to the press release, “challenge anti-sugar messaging around fruit and fruit juice”.

The messaging, as the drink choice of most people in the room would attest, is not good.

Earlier this year, we learned that many fruit drinks have more sugar than Coca Cola and are barely any better when you consider that as well as the additives.

Fruit Juice Australia CEO, Geoff Parker admits the bad press has squeezed the industry, saying sales have dropped 3 per cent year on year.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation, dare I say, perhaps an understatement, around fruit and fruit juice of late and particularly from the anti-sugar proponents,” Parker said as journalists sipped their waters. “The data that we’re going to present today, I think will surprise you.”

It shows, he said, the “really important role that fruit juice plays in our diet”.

The data are that 93 per cent of Australian adults are not eating the recommended two daily serves of fruit.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines say that a small, 125mL glass of fruit juice with no added sugar consumed occasionally can count towards a serve of fruit.

“When fruit juice was also counted as a fruit serve, the percentage of Australians who reached their daily recommended fruit target more than doubled,” Malcolm Riley, CSIRO’s lead researcher said.

Just how occasional is ‘occasionally’ is unclear, although Riley said he would suggest it means “less than once a day”.

Most things ‘occasionally’ are fine.

But is juice the nutritional baddie we are lead to believe or, as Parker calls it, a “nutritional powerhouse”?

Model Robyn Lawley, who was announced as the new ambassador for Fruit Juice Australia, said she grew up drinking juice.

“I think everything in moderation,” said the 26-year-old model who believes juice has been unfairly “demonised”.

“I think [juice] is one thing we’re really missing from our diets.”

Queensland University of Technology professor Amanda Lee, disagrees.

Like Lawley, many of us grew up drinking juice, and we turned out OK. Didn’t we?

“People say they smoked every day too and survived,” Lee says.

“There has been a major increase in junk foods in the last 40 years. Drinking juice might have been the only problem in their diet. These days we’re surrounded by affordable, available unhealthy foods.”

Check out the supermarket shelves and you’ll notice that most juice packs are 250ml, double the “occasional” recommended serve. Those are the smallest sizes.

“You only have to look around the shopping centre to see people consuming 600 ml bottles,” Lee says, adding that juice comes without the satiety benefits of whole fruit nor the fibre.

However she says while soft drinks are “completely empty calories” fruit juice “can provide some vitamins and minerals”.

Riley said that the CSIRO analysis found that fruit juice provided about 60 per cent of total vitamin C, 16 per cent folate and 14 per cent potassium amongst people who consumed juice on the surveyed day.

Lee says these vitamins are “ones that we don’t necessarily need because of our dietary patterns anyway”.

What about the sugar content?

In the presentation, Riley says that across the population, only 1 per cent of energy and 3.5 per cent of sugar is coming from fruit juice.

This figure is divided to average out across people who don’t drink juice too. Of those who do drink juice, the sugar contribution jumps to 20 per cent of their daily intake.

The numbers can be deceptive but, Lee argues, whether it’s one or 20, every per cent counts.

“When we are living in a country where 60 per cent of adults are overweight and 25 per cent of children, any excess energy is important to consider.”