Fruit juices, something we trusted as a safe choice for our children and family is now possibly harming them. This is the latest in a series of alarming discoveries concerning what is in our food and drinks. Late last year, heavy metals were found in 50 nationally distributed baby foods. Of that amount, about 2/3 of the products had concerning levels of heavy metals. Why is this important? Heavy metals can negatively impact cognitive development. Considering that so much brain development occurs in the first few years of life, exposure to heavy metals can seriously impact a child’s life. Now, it has also been found that many popular fruit juices, both organic and not, contain arsenic and lead, two heavy metals known to cause serious harm. More than 80 percent of parents of children age 3 and younger give their kids fruit juice at least sometimes. In 74 percent of those cases, kids drink juice once a day or more.
The study completed by Consumer Reports, tested the following juices:
- 365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods)
- Trader Joe’s
- Tree Top
- Apple & Eve
- Big Win (Rite Aid)
- Capri Sun
- Nature’s Own
- Ocean Spray
- Old Orchard
- R.W. Knudsen
- Simply Balanced (Target)
- Gold Emblem (CVS)
- Honest Kids
- Juicy Juice
- Great Value (Walmart)
- Clover Valley (Dollar General)
- Market Pantry (Target)
- Minute Maid
These findings aren’t something to ignore- depending on the level of exposure, those exposed to heavy metals may be at risk for lowered IQ, behavioral problems (such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), type 2 diabetes, and cancer, among other health issues. Juices that many might consider a safer choice, like organic options, did not have lower levels of heavy metals than other options.
To add to the concern, another recent study completed by the Health Research Institute Laboratories also found alarming rates of glyphosate (the active ingredient in the weed killer, Roundup) in popular orange juice brands like Tropicana (found to have the highest levels) and Minute Maid. Although the levels found were lower than studies done the previous year, the presence of glyphosate shouldn’t be taken lightly. States are cracking down on pesticides and herbicides as questions arise as to the long-term consequences humans may experience. In California just last year, a groundskeeper was awarded $289 million dollars from Monsanto (the maker of Roundup), after asserting that his cancer was a result of a lifetime of exposure to Roundup.
So, how do you keep your family safe? It has long been a recommendation that people, not just children, limit the amount of juice consumed. Mostly, this has been to avoid consuming an unnecessary amount of sugar, often found in juices. Although it sounds healthy, being a supposed fruit derivative, fruit juice doesn’t have the fiber and other vitamins and minerals found in fresh fruit. When considering the added sugar, among other unwelcome ingredients like heavy metals, steering clear of juice altogether and choosing water, milk, or making your own juice and smoothies from fresh fruit are all better options.
When making your own juices at home or purchasing fresh squeezed juice from a shop, still be cautious as food borne illness can occur when produce or equipment isn’t properly cleaned and maintained. Most juices sold at stores are pasteurized to kill bacteria. But, stores that sell juices by the glass (like at a juice bar) aren’t required to pasteurize their product, potentially exposing people to harmful bacteria. If you are unsure of whether a product is pasteurized or not, ask. And, unpasteurized juices should have a warning label on when sold in quantities larger than a glass (and these items are usually in refrigerated sections). When making your own juices at home, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends:
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after preparation.
- Cut away any damaged or bruised areas on fresh fruits and vegetables. Throw away any produce that looks rotten.
- Wash all produce thoroughly under running water before cutting or cooking, including produce grown at home or bought from a grocery store or farmers’ market. Washing fruits and vegetables with soap, detergent, or commercial produce wash is not recommended.
- Scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers, with a clean produce brush. Even if you plan to peel the produce before juicing it, wash it first so dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the surface when peeling or cutting into it.
- After washing, dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present on the surface.
Clearly we now know it’s a challenge to find healthy alternatives, even organic ones, that really are safe. My best advice- don’t assume anything. If your brand isn’t on the list above, confirm its safety. Don’t be afraid to research all brands, limit your intake, especially for kids- or make your own.