Arsenic in apple juice: The real story

That apple juice might be hiding a dirty secret.

In September, Dr. Mehmet Oz warned against drinking apple juice because of its high arsenic levels, which he uncovered through his own testing. The FDA at the time called the findings “irresponsible,” as arsenic is a naturally occurring element and Dr. Oz’s results measured total levels instead of the amount of inorganic arsenic — a carcinogen that can cause cancer and up the risk of diabetes, heart disease and immune problems.
 
But Dr. Oz might have been on to something. New research from Consumer Reports found that of the 88 samples and 28 brands of apple and grape juice tested, about 10 percent had total arsenic levels greater than 10 parts per billion, which is the federal limit for bottled water. There is currently no standard for regulating arsenic and lead in juices. As a result of the findings, Consumers Union, part of the Consumer Reports umbrella, has called on the Food & Drug Administration to issue such regulations.
 
Apple juice samples from Apple & Eve, Mott’s and Great Value (Wal-Mart’s generic brand) had levels more than 10 ppb. Grape juices from Walgreens and Welch’s went beyond 10 ppb, too.

In September, Parents.com spoke with two experts about the issue. Here’s what they had to say.

The highly publicized clash between Dr, Oz and the FDA regarding acceptable levels of arsenic in apple juice has left many wondering, ‘Well, what exactly is safe?’. We called upon two health experts, Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, and author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips, and Connie Diekman, M.Ed, RD, LD, FADA, and director of University Nutrition at Washington University, to help clear up some of the confusion.


What do you make of the controversy between Dr. Oz and the FDA?

Connie Diekman: As a registered dietitian I appreciate Dr. Oz’s passion for and interest in healthful eating but hate to see such controversy causing confusion and angst for parents. Parents are working hard to provide the right food choices and activity for their children and they need role models who provide information that is based on the science of nutrition in a simple to implement manner.


Can you explain the difference between “good” and “bad” arsenic in food?


CD:
There are two types of arsenic – organic and inorganic. The inorganic form is the one that is harmful, and while arsenic exists in both forms in foods, the inorganic arsenic is the main form found in drinking water. This higher concentration in drinking water is the reason that the EPA, and subsequently the FDA, established limits of safety for drinking water.

Organic arsenic is found in a variety of foods, including fish, seafood, fruits, fruit juices, vegetables and rice. Organic compounds are easily digestible and do not accumulate in the body as inorganic compounds can, thus intake of organic arsenic, especially at the low levels it exists in foods, is not a concern.


What are the acceptable FDA levels of arsenic in food?

CD: There is no scientific evidence available to allow FDA to set limits for food. The very small amounts in food, combined with the majority being organic, makes it difficult to conduct studies that consistently show a level of risk or safety.


Why would the FDA have higher acceptable levels of arsenic in apple juice as compared to drinking water?

Elisa Zied: The FDA says the levels vary because humans drink and consume a lot more water than they drink other beverages, including apple juice. Because water is more commonly consumed and the quantities consumed are so much higher than they are for juice or other beverages, it’s more important to limit potentially harmful chemicals in it to minimize their total exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

CD: The EPA set the level for water based on the average consumption amounts of water, which are significantly higher than those of juice. In addition, since the arsenic in water is predominately inorganic it is easy to measure amounts.


What parents should do with regard to giving their kids apple juice?

EZ: Apple juice – like all juice and other calorie-containing beverages – should be limited in the diet. The AAP recommends 4 to 6 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice to kids ages 1 to 6 ; older kids should limit it to no more than 8-12 ounces if they consume it.

It’s wise to encourage fresh fruit as main source of daily fruit intake because its higher in fiber and more filling. But 100 percent fruit juice can fit into a healthful diet; to lower the amount consumed  you can combine with water or seltzer. Like with all food or beverages, it’s wise to mix up what kids consume from each of the different key food groups. For example, one day have an apple and some strawberries, the next day a banana and some apple juice or orange juice, the next day grapes and some honeydew, the next day some dried fruit and watermelon. Consuming different foods and beverages within the same category mixes up the nutrients you get and can potentially minimize risks of exposure to low levels of contaminants you may find in different foods and beverages.

CD: Apple juice can be a part of a healthful eating plan but as with all fruit juices it should not be a child’s main fruit source. Nutritional and health benefits of whole fruits are better than those of juice, so encouraging kids to enjoy fruit should be the first step.

To see the original story from Parents.com, click here.

To read more about the recent findings, visit here.


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