Apple Juice and Arsenic: It’s the Sugar, Dummy

Photo: Chicago Tribune

In the last few days, we’ve been getting questions from Fooducate community members about arsenic in apple juice. It started when Consumer Reports published its findings on lead and arsenic levels in apple and grape juice.  The not for profit organization has urged the FDA to do something about it. According to Consumer Reports:

The tests of 88 samples of apple juice and grape juice purchased in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut by Consumer Reports staffers found that 10 percent of those samples had total arsenic levels exceeding federal drinking-water standards of 10 parts per billion (ppb) and 25 percent had lead levels higher than the 5 ppb limit for bottled water set by the Food and Drug Administration. Most of the arsenic detected in our tests was the type called inorganic, which is a human carcinogen. Read more…

Should parents start panicking?

What you need to know:

Arsenic is a toxic chemical that has found its way into the food system through pesticides, mining byproducts, and as a naturally occurring compound. In India, cases of arsenic poisoning in water are well documented. As little as 150 parts per billion have been shown to cause cancer. That’s why a threshold of 10 ppb in drinking water has been set by the World Health Organization and the FDA. There is no standard for juice though.

If this bad news from Consumer Reports is going to make you stop buying apple juice, so be it.

But you should stop giving your kids juice for a much more important and statistically probable reason. Apple juice is liquid candy that is closer in nutritional value to soda than to a fresh apple. With all the reporting we’ve done on childhood obesity this week, sweet beverages can be one of the first and most effective areas for parents to tackle in their quest for normal sized kids.

Consider this:

While an apple has an assortment of vitamins and minerals present, apple juice has almost none.

Apples have fiber, apple juice has none.

Apples take time to consume because they need to be chewed. Juice allows one to swallow calories at a very rapid pace.

A single serving of apple juice has the sugar equivalent of two medium apples.

Apple juice is bad for your child’s teeth.

What to do at the supermarket:

Skip the juice and teach your child to drink water. Start at an early age.

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  • reviewed!

    I really can’t believe how much juice people give their kids. I’m equally amazed that programs like the Women, Infant, & Children community action program offer juice to everyone who qualifies for aid. It seems like a no-brainer that kids should just be drinking water and one of the ways to combat obesity is to avoid empty calories. Sheesh.

    • Elizabethmoretz

      if you think all kids will just drink water you are quite the optimist. even health conscious adults enjoy a non-water beverage once in a while.

      • Amber @ Au Coeur

        Kids will drink water if it’s given to them from a very young age, because that will be all they know.  My daughter never even tried juice until about 18 months.  Before that she drank breast milk and water.  She refused any milks other than breast milk (cow’s almond, soy) until about 2.  Even though she’s had the other beverages, she still requests “cold water” (has to come from the fridge) over any other beverage.

    • Nancy – The Frugal Dietitian

      They have decreased it in the new packages (some differences between states) PLUS the Dietitians in WIC always recommend prudent amounts and diluted juice.

  • Lauren Smith

    Great post.

  • Elisa Zied

    In my opinion, the key message should be to limit added sugars from all sources–candy, cookies, cake, doughnuts, & sweetened crackers–foods that offer little in terms of nutrition to begin with. Limiting sugar from otherwise healthful foods made with added sugars, like flavored milks and yogurts, and whole grain/high fiber cereals can also be helpful in keeping a cap on total daily sugar intake. As for natural sugars–drinking too much of any juice, even if it’s 100 percent fruit juice like apple juice, can make less room for healthful whole fruit. We should limit it but I don’t believe we need to ban it altogether. We definitely need rules to ensure the safety of our food supply, and I appreciate consumer reports taking a closer look at specific brands of popular beverages like apple juice. But one food (or beverage in this case) does not a diet make. We need to look much more of our overall dietary pattern (instead of just focusing on one specific food or beverage) and strive to consume a diet that’s limited in added sugars and solid fats (like butter) and rich in naturally nutritious food.

  • Roger

    Dr Oz is getting a lot of heat about this from Juice Manufacturers. He exposed this story on his show in past 3-4 months.

    • Anne

      Yes, he had a show back in September and took alot of flack from FDA and other groups.  The CR story backs him up.

  • Dez Weber

    Juice sugars are bad, yes, but as for the arsenic…

    Arsenic is a naturally-occurring compound in apples (the seeds), so arsenic gets into apple juice when the apples are pressed and not always from an external/artificial source like pesticide and fertilizer. 

    I’m not expert enough to make any health claims about natural arsenic vs. external arsenic… but some things aren’t the fault of modern farming techniques, and apples have ALWAYS had this trace amount of arsenic in them. 

    If ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, this could just be something our bodies are used to in combination with other apple compounds. I don’t know anyone who has tested this, so I’d be inlined to be cautious about decrying apples just yet.

    Apple juice is silly, yes, but I’m worried people will attribute the arsenic to the wrong things or stop eating apples altogether- even in fruit form.

  • Mamasimpson

    Agree. My son gets an upset tummy from apple or grape juice because of the sugar content. Having a super sensitive child (gluten, food coloring and additives, sugar and dairy-well dairy from a1 cows, but that’s gets complicated) has made me more aware of what my family puts in their body.

  • Arp

    You need to distinguish between organic and inorganic arsenic. Otherwise this is scientifically dubious.

  • Msushaner

    what about apple cider, is it completely different at least safe compared to apple juice

    • Guest

      No difference. Both are jammed full of fructose. How long ago did you drink that cider? Surprised your not dead yet. Get your affairs in order right away, buddy, them apple squeezin’s sure to do you in!

    • Nancy – The Frugal Dietitian

      The problem with unpasteurized apple juice is greater food borne illness potential.

  • Msushaner

    and i mean i live in michigan i get cider that hasnt been pasteurized at all..just fresh from the apple itself

  • Nour Zibdeh

    good tips. I would add…
    If any, buy the 4-oz boxes and don’t give your child one a day. Save them for special occasions.
    Dilute juice with water. They won’t know the difference.

    I never buy apple juice. A friend came over to my house the other day and brought a Costco-size apple juice–wasn’t happy!

    • Nancy – The Frugal Dietitian

      When I worked in WIC, I was always surprised how many parents with limited income bought the single serve juice – for even home use.  I used to show the cost savings and the ability to dilute the WIC frozen juice even further. Our state did away with the container juice.

  • Nour Zibdeh

    good tips. I would add…
    If any, buy the 4-oz boxes and don’t give your child one a day. Save them for special occasions.
    Dilute juice with water. They won’t know the difference.

    I never buy apple juice. A friend came over to my house the other day and brought a Costco-size apple juice–wasn’t happy!

  • Nancy – The Frugal Dietitian

    Sounds like the alar scare all over again…hopefully schools don’t dump millions of gallons away like they did then. Juice should always be taken sparingly PLUS diluted!

  • Nancy – The Frugal Dietitian

    According to “Total arsenic isn’t the point, however. Organic arsenic isn’t currently
    considered dangerous. But inorganic arsenic is deadly — and Consumer Reports says that most of the arsenic in apple and grape juice is inorganic.
    Arsenic in apple juice isn’t the only issue. It’s also found in
    chicken, rice, and, according to a June report at a scientific
    conference, in brand-name baby foods.

    According to a 2004 study cited by Consumer Reports, arsenic was found most often in baby foods containing sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, and peaches.

    Rice is also particularly good at soaking up the inorganic, poisonous form of arsenic.”
    The FDA currently worries about 23 ppb. But Consumer Reports says the cutoff should be much lower: 3 ppb for arsenic and 5 ppb for lead.

    Can juice be made that safe? Apparently so. Over 40% of the juice tested by Consumer Reports had less than 3 ppb of arsenic and less than 5 ppb of lead.”

  • Amber @ Au Coeur

    I’m a big proponent of no juice, too.  We don’t buy it all all anymore.  My two-year-old drinks water and occasionally whole milk or decaf herbal tea.  As a treat, we break out the juicer (usually to make carrot juice, her favorite) or she’ll get a cup of tomato “juice” (I.e. thin pureed tomatoes) whenever I open one of my home-canned jars .  Less sugar to worry about, less money out of our grocery budget, and (apparently) less arsenic and lead too.  Win, win, win.

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  • Mariah

    Arsenic aside, apple juice is not a healthy choice, especially for children. When I was a kid, sugary drinks were thought of as a treat. My mom always had lightly sweetened tea, water, and milk in the house but never juice or soda. I didn’t grow up around the stuff so I never developed a taste for it. I recently picked up a popular apple juice brand to look at the ingredients when it claimed “50% Less Sugar!” and was not surprised that the first ingredient was water. Apple juice is a sugar bomb that shouldn’t be a part of a healthy diet.

  • G Trever Grissom

    as a national award winning cider maker I have to disagree with the what you need to know.  My cider is made of nothing more then the pressed apples and a touch of water. Nothing is filtered from it so all the vitamins are still there and if you have ever let real cider set you will see there is pulp on the bottom of the jug(theres your fiber) yes sugar is sugar no matter what it is in but I believe cider would when over soda any day in the nutritional comparison. The difference between cider and juice is night and day so get it right. As a apple grower we are required to follow strict guidlines on how much chemical can be used on the trees and how many times and how close to harvest. Most of the apple juice sold in stores today is produced in china where they have no regulation on thier chemical applications so just like the lead paint on the toys a few years ago I am sure we will find the smoking gun in imported juices from china.

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  • Nisar baig

    Hey!! I like the helpful information you provide in your articles. excellent work on this thank for to survive in food crisis

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