Juice exudes health and vitality. It is officially one of your ‘five-a-day’. It’s what they sell in juice bars, those yogafied temples of wheatgrass.
But fruit juice is also, according to the American obesity expert Robert Lustig, basically just sugar and is therefore, in his view, a ‘poison’. Lustig is the author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth about Sugar (4th Estate, £13.99), published earlier this year. He sees sugar as the major culprit in the obesity crisis. Not so surprising, except for his shock revelation that the worst sugars may be those that appear the healthiest. ‘Calorie for calorie, 100 per cent orange juice is worse for you’ than sugary sodas, Lustig says.
This sounds alarmist, until you read some of the case studies from Lustig’s childhood obesity clinic in San Francisco. One eight-year-old already has high blood pressure, thanks to a three-glasses-a-day juice habit. A six-year-old Latino boy comes to the clinic weighing 100lb, ‘wider than he is tall’. His mother, a poor farm worker, has been letting him drink a gallon of juice a day because a government welfare programme gives them the juice for free.
Obviously, most of us drink nothing like a gallon of juice a day. But our juice portions are still out of whack. Over the past 30 years consumption of fructose – the sugar in juice – has more than doubled. Juice didn’t used to be seen as something with which you quenched your thirst; it was more like a vitamin shot, a tiny dose of goodness. A book from the 1920s on feeding children by L Emmett Holt says that you should give toddlers just one to four tablespoons (15-60ml) of fresh orange or peach juice. Compare this with today’s 200ml children’s juice boxes, which contain about 17g sugar, the equivalent of more than four teaspoons.