Arsenic and Lead Found in Fruit Juice
Arsenic and lead found in fruit juice is creating continued cause for concern, especially for parents of young children. According to a new study published by Consumer Reports, many popular fruit juice brands contain concerning levels of arsenic and lead, especially when those juices are consumed on a regular basis or by children.
Children are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of arsenic and lead. Exposure to even trace amounts heavy metals, such as arsenic and lead, can cause long term and severe developmental disabilities in children, among other physiological issues. The dangers of these heavy metal toxins are well known, yet the Consumer Reports study found that 21 out of the 45 tested juice brands exhibited large enough amounts of heavy metals to be concerning.
How Alarmed Should You Be?
News of arsenic and lead is extremely alarming, and many consumers are wondering just how worried they should be. That’s an understandable question, but it’s one that’s difficult to answer. First, it’s likely that levels of arsenic and lead vary from batch to batch. Consumer Reports mentions that their study is meant to evaluate the market as a whole, not to draw conclusions about specific brands.
Consumer Reports tested for four metals: cadmium, lead, mercury, and inorganic arsenic (inorganic, here, is a chemistry term, not related to the “organic” labels you find on food). These are not exactly rare metals. Most people will be exposed to some combination of these metals at various points in his or her life. The problem isn’t so much the metals themselves, it’s where they’re found.
- Nearly all of the juices studied were from concentrate, a common manufacturing method for store-bought fruit juice.
- A wide variety of brands of fruit juices and juice boxes were tested.
- Mercury (one of the four metals tested for) was not found in amounts large enough to be a concern in any fruit juices.
- Every juice tested showed at least trace amounts of heavy metals (not always in amounts large enough to be concerning)
- Some of the tested brands saw toxic metal amounts high enough to be of concern to adults as well.
- From a heavy metals perspective, there is no benefit to organic fruit juices.
Fruit Juice and Children
In the United States, fruit juice is typically consumed primarily by children. Once thought of as a “healthier” alternative to soda and other sugary beverages, the American Association of Pediatrics has since urged strict moderation in fruit juice consumption due to the high levels of sugars and acids present in most brands.
However, children still tend to drink fruit juice with great regularity. That’s why the frequency of exposure to arsenic and lead in fruit juice, specifically, is alarming. Children, after all, are especially sensitive to heavy metals, though the Consumer Reports findings suggest that even adults who drink fruit juice on a regular basis have cause to be wary.
Toxic metals have been found in other foods (rice, for example). But because rice is not typically consumed by children every day, concern has not been as potent.
Negative Effects of Arsenic and Lead
In both children and adults, heavy metal toxicity can cause several acute issues. However, children are significantly more sensitive to heavy metal exposure. Exposure to lead, for example, can cause severe developmental and cognitive issues, in addition to behavioral problems, such as deficit hyperactivity disorder. Certain types of arsenic are known carcinogens (inorganic arsenic in particular) and can cells to have issues functioning properly.
For adults, exposure to heavy metals has been linked to the development of various cancer types, including bladder, skin, and lung cancer. Additional impacts may include the development of type-2 diabetes or reproductive issues.
What’s common among these heavy metals is that exposure matters: the greater the exposure, the greater the harm. Additionally, the duration of exposure matters. Small amounts of toxic heavy metals over a long duration can cause significant harm. Limiting one’s exposure, then, is almost always recommended.
That’s why many have called on the Food and Drug Administration suggested an update to its rules, standards, and guidelines. Several years ago, the FDA suggested a rule change decreasing the acceptable level of arsenic in apple juice down to 10-parts-per-billion. Thus far, that rule has not been enacted. One can certainly hope that this study from Consumer Reports spurs action.
Where Does the Arsenic and Lead in Fruit Juice Come From?
One might expect that fruit juice manufacturers take steps to prevent heavy metals from getting to consumers. But that can sometimes be difficult, in part because heavy metals occur naturally. They are often absorbed by foods through natural processes (apples and grapes can absorb heavy metals via plant root systems).
Some of the fruit juices Consumer Reports examined did present improvements in curtailing the amount of heavy metals present. And all companies profiled were sure to mention that they are compliant with all government regulations (whether those regulations are enough to ensure safety is another, different conversation).
The challenge is that most of these big fruit juice companies source fruit from a variety of growers, leading to highly variable amounts of heavy metals.
Should You Cut Back on Fruit Juice?
The question then becomes: should you cut back on the amount of fruit juice your children drink? Most pediatricians recommend drastically moderating fruit juice consumption for a variety of health reasons, including the amounts of sugars and acids present in juice. Indeed, most fruit juices provide very little in the way of nutritional value and are little better than soda.
The additional information about arsenic and lead in fruit juice should provide even more reason to cut back on fruit juice consumption. Instead, children should be encouraged to eat fresh fruit in order to achieve a nutritional benefit.
What Can You Do?
If you’re a parent, this Consumer Reports study can be frustrating. You’re simply trying to provide a healthy option for your children, and it can be difficult to keep track of everything that may cause harm. That said, there are a few things you can do. First and foremost, it might be a good idea to moderate your child’s consumption of fruit juices, especially if your child is drinking multiple glasses a day. If nothing else, try to purchase fruit juices that are not from concentrate.
Second, you can speak to your doctor or your pediatrician about toxic metals and where they may be found in the general food supply. Try not to double up on foods that are known to be risks and otherwise limit your exposure.
And, finally, this study can be used to encourage fruit juice manufacturers to do more to filter toxic metals out of fruit juices. Kids are going to keep drinking juice. It’s not unreasonable to want them to be able to do so safely.
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