Poisoned Juice?

Dear Mamas,

I’ve been hearing lots of alarming information about arsenic in children’s fruit juice coming from the media and it’s really got me concerned. We have 2 boys – 18 months and 3 ½ — and both of them LOVE juices of all kinds. Their favorite is grape (one of the biggest offenders, I hear), but they happily slurp down any flavor I’ll give them.

Since the news reports and the segment on Dr. Oz I’ve tried to cut back but they seriously beg for their sippy cups constantly. How worried should I be? Is this just another scare tactic like mercury in vaccines? Please give me the straight scoop.

Kristin

 

Dear Kristin,

We’ve gotten so many questions on this subject that it’s clear it’s on the minds of moms everywhere. We all assume that the sweet liquid we pour into those cups is wholesome, if not downright healthy, so this news came as quite a shock. First, let’s run down some facts about what the science shows, then we have a few suggestions for reducing your family’s risk.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that can contaminate groundwater used for drinking. Even in low doses it’s a carcinogen known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancers and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, immunodeficiency, and type 2 diabetes.

A study conducted by Consumer Reports found that roughly 10 percent of juice samples from five brands had total arsenic levels that exceeded federal drinking-water standards of 10 parts per billion (ppb). One in four samples also had lead levels higher than the FDA’s bottled-water limit of 5 ppb. No federal limit exists for arsenic or lead levels in juice. Apple and grape juice (the two with the highest levels) constitute a significant source of dietary exposure to arsenic, according to analysis of federal health data from 2003 through 2008.

Children drink a lot of juice, and thirty-five percent of children 5 and younger drink juice in quantities that exceed pediatricians’ recommendations. Mounting evidence suggests that chronic exposure to arsenic and lead, even at levels below water standards, can result in serious health problems. Arsenic has been detected at disturbing levels in other foods, too, which suggests that more must be done to reduce overall dietary exposure.

Now that we’ve scared you to death, let’s outline some strategies to minimize the risk associated with fruit juice. First, head to the consumer reports website, consumerreports.org, to find the brands found to have the lowest levels of arsenic and lead and switch. This step will give you peace of mind and healthier kiddos, but it’s just a start.

Next, set out to reduce the amount of juice your boys are drinking. Arsenic and lead levels aside, fruit juice is basically water and sugar (even fructose, the natural sugar found in fruit, is just sugar) with a few vitamins added. It adds empty calories to kids’ diets without the healthy fiber that’s present in the whole fruit. Here’s our favorite strategy:

Explain to your boys that juice is a treat, and like all treats it has its time and place. Aim to reduce the number of servings modestly – maybe by just one sippy cup per day. At the same time, begin to gradually dilute the juice in their cups with water, starting with about 1 ounce of water to every 6 ounces of juice, slowly increasing the water to juice ratio every 2-3 days. Stop when a serving has no more than 1 ounce of juice to every 6 ounces of water (barely flavored). At this point you will have dramatically decreased the amount of juice they’re taking in. Don’t worry, if you’re sneaky and go slow your little guys won’t ever know the difference.

For more details about arsenic contamination and the list of arsenic levels found in specific brands, check out this article on the Consumer Reports website.

Good Luck!

~ The Mamas

 

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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