For the past six weeks, parents have been able to keep a watchful eye over what they are feeding their children at mealtimes. However, with the back-to-school season fast approaching, most parents will once again face the constant dilemma of choosing which healthy, exciting, tasty and nutritious products they should give their children. Parents face the difficult choice of what to buy for their children as packaging can be misleading.
This report focuses on a selection of popular fruit juice drinks and fruit based desserts which can be found in a typical child's lunchbox.
FRUIT JUICE DRINKS
Fruit Juice Content
The majority of children do not drink enough throughout the day and may only have access to beverages at lunch time or water fountains which provide only mouthfuls of water. Many children prefer the taste of fruit juice to water and with 5-a-day front of mind, a fruit juice drink is a good way to help children reach their daily target whilst providing refreshment benefits at the same time in a way they will actually drink it rather than leave in their lunch box. However, do parents understand that not all fruit juice drinks are quite as they appear? Do they understand that the fruit juice content present in many children's fruit juice drinks account for just a fraction of the ingredients listed on the packaging?
Parents need to be aware that although packaging for many of the popular children's fruit juice drinks on the market may display mouth-watering fruit images or have a fruit related name, they are in fact not as 'fruity' as they appear. They should read the small print labelled "ingredients" on the back of the carton.
Many of the brands on the supermarket shelf have a low fruit juice content and offer a low amount of naturally occurring vitamins (perhaps this is why many manufacturers have added vitamins to the drinks to make them appear more attractive and healthy).
A fruit juice drink which states eg 70% natural fruit juice will have more natural goodness than a juice drink with 6-20%. Fruit juice can be a good source of natural vitamin C and natural is always good. A fruit juice drink with a high percentage juice is less likely to have other products added. It can be misleading to parents as maybe when they see added vitamins they think this is good not being aware that natural fruit juice has it in anyway and does not need to be added.
The fruit juice drinks analysed in the report indicates that some contain a range of additives that have been used to artificially improve the recipe and taste of the drink. Additives used include Citric Acid, Aspartame, Anthocyanins, potassium sorbate and Dimethyl Dicarbonate.
In addition, many of the fruit juice drinks that contain low levels of fruit juice are formulated with added sugar or artificial sweeteners. These can be displayed in a number of ways with different names e.g. sucrose, glucose, fructose, fructose syrup, However, if you refer to the nutritional information on the pack, this can be misleading and confusing as the reference to "carbohydrate of which is sugar" does not differentiate between natural or added sugar. It is therefore advisable to always reference the ingredients list on the pack instead. It is worth highlighting that added sugar is just calories and therefore doesn't have any nutritional benefits. If the products were 'true' fruit juice drinks, it wouldn't be necessary to add sugar or artificial sweeteners to the drinks because fruit contains naturally occurring sugars and therefore has other nutritional benefits e.g. vitamins.
Looking at the labels; a fruit juice drink for example that contains a high amount of natural fruit juice; 70-73% with 27-30% added water will not have any added sugar.
In summary, it is more preferable for parents to choose a fruit juice drink containing a high percentage of fruit juice content with added water and the least amount of additives as opposed to a drink with low fruit juice content combined with added sugar, artificial sweeteners and vitamins.
FRUIT JUICE BASED DESSERTS
Parents are also able to help their child reach their '5 a day' target through fruit or fruit juice based desserts that are especially designed for children's lunchboxes. Many children dislike eating fruit, so products such as jellies made from fruit juice with "no bits" are a useful way of helping parents ensure that children are getting fruit as part of their diet.
There are brands on the market that have a jelly product featuring fruit juice; however parents need to understand these aren't always the most nutritious options and again they will need to check the labelling for any additives. Traditionally, jelly has been made from sugar, water, gelling agents, colours, flavours and preservatives with just a hint of fruit. There are now brands available which contain a high fruit juice content. There is a Raspberry Jelly that has a 98.5% fruit juice content and a Blackcurrant Jelly that has a 98% fruit juice content versus others on the market with only 1%. It is therefore advisable for parents to look out for jelly brands that contain high fruit juice content as this will also help to go towards children's '5-a-day'.
Through analysing the labelling of many fruit juice drink brands and fruit-based jelly desserts, it is clear that many can be misleading and confusing for parents.
This highlights that there is a need to communicate to parents the importance of searching for the fruit juice content on labelling for both fruit juice drinks and fruit jellies and understanding what you are reading. Looking at the front of cartons and "flashes" on cartons can be misleading. It is a parent's right to have the choice of knowingly purchasing the best fruit-based product on the market that they are putting into their trolley and consequently what they are giving their child is nutritionally sound.
- Jacky Bernett, Bsc. RD