More than a few studies have already shown that apple juice, a lunchbox staple, contains arsenic in quantities a parent would prefer not to have their child ingesting. Last week, just in time for the start of the school year, Dr. Mehmet Oz raised the issue again on his syndicated TV show. The FDA promptly responded that apple juice is safe, countering Dr. Oz’s claims by sending two letters to the producers of Dr. Oz’s show, says the Los Angeles Times.
On his website, Dr. Oz says that
“Other countries may use pesticides that contain arsenic, a heavy metal known to cause cancer. After testing dozens of samples from three different cities in America, Dr. Oz discovered that some of the nation’s best known brands of apple juice contain arsenic.”
As Care2 blogger Jaelithe J. has written, arsenic is poisonous to humans in high doses. It is a known carcinogen and has been “implicated as a developmental toxin,” with in utero studies showing that exposure to arsenic can lead to birth defects in animals. While arsenic is a natural substance found at “very low levels in soil, plants and drinking water,” larger quantities can find their way into our food via various chemical pesticides. In particular, fruits and vegetables in China have been found to be contaminated with arsenic due to China’s insufficient controls of pesticide use and the environment — and many US distributors of apple juice and apple sauce “source some or all of their apples from Chinese orchards,” as Jaelithe writes.
So it’s hardly a wonder that consumers have concerns about what else is in the apple juice besides, well, apples.
The Environmental Protection Agency limits arsenic in drinking water to 10 parts per billion. Dr. Oz‘s study found 36 ppb in apple juice. Noting that it has been monitoring and testing apple juice for years, the FDA says its own tests of juice from the very same lot Dr. Oz tested had arsenic levels at 2 to 6 ppb.
That’s a big difference. One reason for the varied test results is due to how arsenic levels are measured: Dr. Oz says that he tests for “total arsenic amount,” which sounds like the sort of information that any parent, or consumer, would want to know. But as the Los Angeles Times points out:
Arsenic occurs naturally in foods in organic and inorganic forms, [the FDA] noted in one of the letters, and only certain levels of inorganic levels are toxic. “We have advised you that the test for total arsenic DOES NOT [all caps is theirs] distinguish inorganic arsenic from organic arsenic.”
At issue, says the FDA, is the amount of “inorganic arsenic” from, for instance, pesticides.
Not to be dissuaded, Dr. Oz, citing worries about the long-term effects on children’s health, has continued with his arsenic and apple juice campaign, sparring on ”World News With Diane Sawyer” with the network’s health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As the Los Angeles Times observes, as important as it is to know exactly what’s in the food, and juice, we give to our kids and drink ourselves, Dr. Oz may be missing the the real culprit in apple juice, sugar:
Maybe what people should be more worried about is the sugar content in apple juice. A cup has about 27 grams, the equivalent of almost 6.5 teaspoons of sugar.
Better to eat a whole apple, which has about 5 grams of fiber and anywhere from 10 to 18 grams of sugar, depending on the variety. A 2009 study in the journal Appetite found that whole apples had a greater effect on satiety compared with applesauce and apple juice. For five weeks, 58 men and women ate an apple, applesauce, apple juice or apple juice with added fiber before a meal (a control group ate nothing before the meal). Those who ate an apple before lunch ate 15% less compared with the control group and less than those who ate applesauce or drank the juices. The participants felt fuller after eating the whole apple as well.
Excessive consumption of fruit juice is linked to short stature and obesity in preschoolers. Why not simply forgo the apple juice (all the more if you’re not sure where the apples in it are from) and just stick to apples?
Provided, that is, those apples aren’t from China.
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