Niki Bezzant: Big squeeze goes on juice

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The whole fruit is better than juice, say new nutritional gudelines. Photo / NZ Herald
The whole fruit is better than juice, say new nutritional gudelines. Photo / NZ Herald

We all know the mantra: five-plus a day is the ideal number for our fruit and vegetable intake. A reasonable chunk of us get there: 64 per cent of adults get at least three vegetable serves a day, and 57 per cent of us get at least two serves of fruit. Women do slightly better at this than men.

The "five-a-day" advice is a bare minimum, especially when it comes to veges. Our focus should be on the "plus" part.

Other countries have long recommended more. Australia's guidelines, for example, are for five vegetable serves and two of fruit. More is definitely better for overall health, and variety is key.

Until recently, fruit juice was officially an example of a serving of fruit. The Ministry of Health included one small glass of juice as a serving of fruit in its healthy eating guidelines. However, we can't count juice as a serving of fruit any more.

The new eating and activity guidelines released late last year emphasise whole foods instead of processed.

They have relegated juice to the same category as other drinks sweetened with sugar.

This echoes the World Health Organisation guidelines on sugar, which put fruit juice in the same camp as added sugars such as white sugar, honey and syrup.

Nutritionists have long emphasised the difference between whole fruit and fruit juice, so in a way this new recommendation is simply catching up with the scientific consensus.

Fruit juice is concentrated. Compared to eating a piece of fruit, even a half-glass of juice is much higher in sugar and therefore kilojoules, without the benefit of the fibre that is found in whole fruit. Even though the sugar in juice is natural, our bodies don't know the difference. A juice will be treated the same as a sweet fizzy drink.

That doesn't mean we can never drink juice again, or that juice is evil. There will be vitamins in a pure fruit juice that you won't find in a fizzy drink. But this reinforces the knowledge we all have that moderation is a good idea. An ideal diet is one where we have a little of everything and not too much of anything. If you like a sweet drink, enjoy it as a treat, not an everyday thing.

I remember fruit juice - along with fizzy drinks - being very much a treat when I was a kid. We're all born with a slight innate preference for sweetness, but beyond that our liking for sweet things is learned, and so it can be unlearned.

The ideal is obviously not to get kids used to sweet drinks in the first place, but if they are, try diluting juice or cordial with water gradually. Just as with salt, over time our taste buds adapt to less sugar.

It is recommended we make plain water our first choice of drink; refreshingly in the realm of health advice this is simple, cheap and healthy for everyone.Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide magazine.

- Herald on Sunday

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