Not looking at the full composition of fruit juices can be misleading
The unparalleled value of good health is annually celebrated on World Health Day on 7 April. Spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), physical, mental, and emotional well-being is promoted and celebrated all over the world on this day.
A healthy diet helps to minimise the risk off malnutrition in all its forms. It also helps to curbe the risk of noncommunicable diseases. Fruit and vegetable juices, as scientific research shows, demonstrate valuable nutritional composition when it comes to nutrients relevant to human health. Fruit juices are a natural source of different vitamins, minerals, fibres, and bio-active compounds – this is why their entire nutritional composition matters when examining the product.
Despite the nutritional value and content, there are a lot of misconceptions around fruit juices. AIJN Secretary General Wouter Lox weighed in on the benefits of fruit juice consumption in a time when fruit juices are mainly judged for their free sugar content. Even though fruit juices indeed contain natural occurring sugars, their benefits and their overall positive contribution to a well-balanced and nutritious diet outweigh any other aspect. Fruit juices should not be eliminated from our diets; instead, our diets should be well balanced with the additional benefits of these naturally present nutrients in a modulated way, taking every aspect of the food into consideration.
What can you tell us about the composition of fruit juices?
Fruit juices reflect the nutritional composition of the constituent fruit. In other words, there is a similarity of nutrients that you can find in the whole fruit or vegetable itself with those that you can find in fruit juice. By law, manufacturers cannot add sugar, preservatives, colours or artificial sweeteners to 100% fruit juice, so anything labelled 'fruit juice' is simply squeezed fruit.
People who drink 100% fruit juice usually tend to have a more adequate fruit and vegetable intake than those who don’t. It is an enjoyable, convenient way to contribute to some of the essential nutrients our body needs: Vitamin C, which contributes to normal collagen formation for healthy bones, skin and teeth, as well as the normal functioning of the immune system; potassium, which contributes to the normal functioning of the nervous system, normal muscle function and the maintenance of normal blood pressure; and folate, which contributes to normal blood formation and to a reduction in tiredness & fatigue.
In addition to the nutrients 100% fruit juice gives us, a small glass of 150 ml only provides around 60 calories. 100% juices do not contain more calories than the equivalent whole fruit but help to provide the similar amounts of vitamins & minerals.
Fruit juices are products that clearly have a lot to offer, yet these beneficial aspects tend to fade away from the spotlight among consumers. According to a recent study by the European Food Safety Authority, a third of consumers believe that 100% fruit juice contains added sugars. This notion is not applicable to other natural products, such as fruits themselves or honey. Why do you think there are wide-spread misconceptions about fruit juices?
Misinformation started to spread more as the focus on sugar content increased in food policy and the media and among consumers in general. We have seen a clear understanding of the benefits of orange juice for example due to its vitamin C content, however, this nutritional aspect – among many others - started to fade away in the public eye due to the free sugar content that derives from the fruit itself. The recent attempts to oversimplify nutritional content for consumers deceptively pinpointed fruit juices towards a ‘sugary drink’ image and all the benefits got lost in translation. This is an issue and it needs to be addressed.
Eating your five-a-day can help to maintain a healthy body weight and balance your energy, not to mention that it helps to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases. A third of European citizens don’t eat any fruit and vegetables on a daily basis and therefore they do not meet dietary guidelines when it comes to the daily recommended intake. Why do you think this is?
Everybody has known for generations that consuming fruits and vegetables are beneficial. Dietary guidelines established by the FAO, WHO or any national authority recommend fruit and vegetable consumption. You’re asking how come people have not been following it then: I cannot say for sure, maybe convenience reasons, like not wanting to peel the fruit, not liking the taste of it or simply it’s just easier to grab some type of snack. What I do know for sure is that fruit juice is a minimally processed, easy and convenient way to contribute to your recommended intake and helps you meet the five-a-day target. You can drink it anytime, anywhere; this is why they should be recognised and included in any dietary guideline in Europe, especially in light of the available consumption data.
You mentioned earlier the oversimplification of information to consumers. In fact, if not all nutrient components are clearly communicated to the consumer, only the sugar content, it can be misleading. What do you think?
Indeed, it has a tendency not to be very informative about the true nature and content of a food product. Tackling the issue of unhealthy diets became synonymous with eliminating sugar, however, the solution is far more complex than that and the true nutritional composition of products should not get lost in translation. Humans need a certain amount of sugar in their diets in fact, so the solution should not be putting the spotlight on it and eliminating sugar from our diets. The solution should be about recommending balanced and diversified intakes. Consumers need to be more educated about what dietary choices to make and how important food is for their health in general.
So if the current systems in place tend to be less educational about the true content, how do you think legislators can support informing consumers better?
This is a very difficult question. On the one hand, you need to have a university degree to properly understand all nutritional aspects of a product or a diet. On the other hand, consumers need to make informed choices and they need to have a simple, convenient way of getting the insights they need. So how do you make this balance between simplification while also displaying all nutritional components? It’s about education and informing consumers from an early age of the choices that they are making. We are already witnessing a growing demand from consumers for healthy and sustainably produced products. This trajectory should be encouraged by regulatory frameworks that inform the consumers through education rather than through the oversimplification and alienation of certain products.
As the Secretary General of AIJN, you are in a position to bring your industry’s opinion forward and collaborate with policymakers. How can you support each other’s work in this aspect?
Industry-policymaker collaboration is crucial for every association’s work. We have not only the day-to-day industrial insights, but also the scientific data to back up our claims. Without these aspects you cannot cooperate effectively with regulators, and without these insights, regulators cannot adopt effective policies. Industry and policymakers ‘pollinate’ each other through cooperation to have the best possible outcome for all parties. This is why they should include us, industry associations, in the process as much as possible. This is why we, as industry, should also place high emphasis on public affairs and engaging with institutional stakeholders. One cannot fully ‘blossom’ without the other.
Do you have any concluding remarks?
To sum up, I would say that the most important thing is to make sure that the complexity of our products – or any product for that matter – is translated into good legislative initiatives moving forward. As AIJN, we have a duty to help legislators to keep consumers informed and to educate them about making the right dietary choices. We have the insights, we are open to collaboration and we have the same goal in mind: encouraging healthy, sustainable diets.