What “Equivalent to a USDA Serving of Fruit” Really Means

Clif Fruit Rope Package

Clif Bar is one of the hottest health snack companies on the market. Their bars for hikers, athletes, women, and even kids are tremendously popular. They also have a line of fruit snacks for kids called Clif Kids. One of the products is a Fruit Rope, which comes in various flavors. Some claims from the package include  ”Excellent source of vitamin C”, “Gluten Free”,”No processed sugar”, and “USDA Organic”.

Another interesting claim is

Equal to one serving of Fruit*  (*one serving of fruit per piece per USDA guidelines)

Our question: How exactly did the USDA come to the conclusion that fruit snacks – as well as fruit juice – are equivalent to fruit? To answer this question, we took a look inside the label of the fruit rope product.
What you need to know:

As snacks go, this is a relatively small serving (2/3 of an ounce). It has 70 calories, of which 60 come from sugar! That’s 85% of the calories. Or 4 teaspoons of sugar.

Here is the ingredient list:

Organic Apple Puree, Organic Apple Juice Concentrate, Organic Flavors, Pectin, Malic Acid.

Overall, decent ingredients. the pectin helps keep the snack firm, the malic acid provides a tartness to counter the sugar. There is no added sugar, the fruit is organic, and all is good. Right?

Not so fast. Fruit juice concentrate is a nice way of saying sugar. When we squeeze apples into juice and then evaporate the water, we are left with sugar. And this is what your kids will be eating. Not an apple. As we all know by now, there is way too much sugar in our western diet. If you eat an apple, along with the  4 tsp of sugar you’ll get close to 4 grams of fiber (not just 1 gram as in this product) and substantially more nutrients.

So why do USDA guidelines allow apple sugar to be considered as a fruit equivalent?

Our guess: politics. Shelf stable snacks can be sold year round. Farmers that overproduce need a solution for fruit that will go bad. Why not figure out a way to process it and turn it into a nutritionally equivalent solution? Sounds great in theory, except that a fruit rope, fruit leather, or fruit juice is simply not equivalent to a fresh piece of fruit.

Clif Kids Fruit Rope on Fooducate

What to do at the supermarket:

While Clif’s fruit rope snack is NOT equivalent to fruit by our book, if you are going to buy a fruit snack, it is probably one of the better options compared to fruit snacks that are made with artificial colorings and include much more added sugar. Please note that the snack size is unusually small and your child may eat more than one (which means doubling the sugar intake).

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  • Celestialpetunia

    I wonder if people know how pathetically easy it is to make fruit snacks from home, with FRUIT. Anyone with a blender and an oven can do this…

  • Jim

    It seems to me that concentrating apple juice produces concentrated apple juice, including all the vitamins, minerals, and flavoring as well as the sugar. Suggesting that apple juice concentrate is just sugar seems a bit of an exaggeration. Can you provide references on this?

    • Carol

      Apple juice doesnt have much in terms of nutrients other than sugar.

  • Carol

    These are not a naturally excellent (or good) source of vitamin C (even a fresh apple can’t provide 20% DV of vitamin C)… it is added, although they neglect to show that on their web site (http://www.clifbar.com/food/products_clif_kid_twisted_fruit/). Please update the fooducate app on this point.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Actually the vitamin C thing threw me off. I went to the USDA website and saw that apples do have vitamin C in them. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2223
      A medium apple with peel has 8mg. The RDI is 60mg. so an apple has 14%. Maybe clif has more than one apple pureed into this snack?

      • Carol

        A. That assumes the apple didn’t sit around after picking — rare in commercial situations, and
        B. they arent using fresh apples, but processed puree (=exposure to air and usually heat, both of which destroy vitamin C);
         so there is basically very little viitamin C left — it has definitely been added to this product.