During former Mayor Bloomberg's twelve year term in New York City, from 2002-2014, we saw all calorie counts posted at fast food restaurants, decreased sodium levels in processed foods and even a proposed ban on sodas larger than 16 oz. Despite these efforts to improve the health of New Yorkers, adults in New York City diagnosed with diabetes went up from 8% in 2002 to nearly 11% in 2013. This disappointing statistic reminds us we still have a lot more work to do in the fight against obesity and in creating healthy futures for our children and their families.
While recent campaigns have made us well aware of the excess calories, sugar and link to childhood obesity that stem from high consumption of soda among children, you might be surprised to find that there's another drink that contains almost as much sugar and is beloved in many homes and classrooms.
The culprit - the innocent seeming 100% apple juice.
According to Dr. David Ludwig, the Director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, "All of these beverages are largely the same. They are 100 percent sugar, juice is only minimally better than soda." Dr. Ludwig makes a strong case to ditch the juice carton, and choose whole, unprocessed fresh fruits instead. When a child bites into a fresh apple, her body absorbs fiber, antioxidants and vitamins, which can be lost in the juicing process. Fiber helps our bodies break down sugar and makes us feel fuller faster so we don't overeat. Fiber also slows down the rate in which sugar is absorbed into the body, allowing the pancreas to process the sugar faster. When sugar is flooded into the body through sugary drinks, there is not ample time for the pancreas to process and filter, causing sugar spikes in the bloodstream. Over time, consistent spikes in sugar levels can lead to adverse health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes. The American Academy of Pediatrics also agrees that, “Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit for infants older than 6 months and children.”
Although fruit juice is still a better alternative to soda, each container contains a high amount of sugar and calories without the additional health benefits we get from whole fruit. One apple juice box contains between 12 and 25 grams of sugar. To put that into perspective, that's about 3 to 6 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Would you allow your child to consume upwards of 6 sugar packets during snack time? We made the decision that we could not.
As a meal service provider that makes over 20,000 made from scratch meals each day, it is our responsibility to make sure our children are eating a healthy and nutritionally balanced diet while in school. As role models to the children we serve , we must teach them how to form healthy habits in order to create a future of healthy eaters. We will be eliminating juice from our menus beginning this fall. By eliminating sugary juices from our menu, we know that the kids we feed are not receiving any unnecessary sugars from their Red Rabbit meals. We hope that all programs will follow us in the trend to replace sugary juices with low-fat milk, or water, the most hydrating beverage of all.