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Health experts back treating juice as ‘soft drink’ as industry fights star rating change

Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock said he was concerned “that sends a poor message to consumers … that you should be drinking diet soft drink rather than natural juices at a time when Australians are under-consuming fruit and vegetables. ”

Mr Hancock said that, at the last meeting of the Forum late last year, there was a decision to uphold modifications to the calculator that would see diet soft drinks maintain their 3.5 star ratings.

A drink like Diet Coke “is essentially caffeine and artificial sweetener and some water and you’re saying that’s a better drink to have than an orange juice or a carrot juice or a celery juice?”

That is an argument that doesn’t fly with Matthew Hopcraft, CEO of the Australian Dental Association’s Victoria branch.

Associate Professor Hopcraft said if fruit juice falls below diet soft drinks, “that’s a reason to go back and fix the health star rating system”.

Dr James Muecke says the health star rating system needs a complete overhaul.

Dr James Muecke says the health star rating system needs a complete overhaul. Credit:Getty

But he said juice was partly responsible for a third of children aged 2-5 having tooth decay in their baby teeth, and three in five children aged 12-14 having decay in their adult teeth.

“We know that young children, on the whole, aren’t drinking soft drinks and energy drinks and sports drinks, so for young children juice would be a component of their diet more so than other sugary beverages,” he said.

A glass of juice contains up to four teaspoons of sugar – and there is only slightly less sugar in juice with the pulp included, Associate Professor Hopcraft says.

Dr Mueke, an opthalmologist who used his 2020 Australian of the Year platform to advocate for a sugar tax in his bid to end preventable blindness caused by diabetes, said he personally stopped drinking orange juice “quite some time ago” due to its high sugar content.

He says the entire health star rating system was “flawed” and he would like to see it overhauled “in its entirety”.

Fruit juice is not the only product with a questionable rating, Dr Muecke said . He cites Milo and Up&Go, which both have ratings of 4.5 stars, despite the latter being “full of sugar and seed oils” and “ultra-processed”.

“The problem with fruit juice is it’s been extracted from whole fruit, so the fibre has been taken out,” Dr Muecke said. “What fibre does is reduce or slow down the absorption of the fructose element of the sugar within the fruit”, about a third of which ends up being converted into fat, he said.

His advice to fruit growers is to shift focus and get people eating fibre-filled oranges.

“Let’s go back to celebrating oranges as a real food, a whole food, instead of a sugary juice,” he said.

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