A decision to rate 100 per cent orange juice as less healthy than diet cola has prompted fierce debate among parents, dieticians and juice industry representatives about why the change was needed.
In its latest review, the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation decided to focus more on the amount of sugar in products when calculating health star ratings (HSRs).
For one parent, Becky Noordink, a mother of three young boys in Western Australia’s Great Southern region, the new rating is confusing because the consumer perception is that 100 per cent juice is healthier than soft drink
No stars from mum
But Ms Noordink said she had stopped using the health stars long ago because, “I just found there were too many inconsistencies”.
But she agreed there was more nutritional benefit in feeding her children whole fruits, instead of juice.
“I wouldn’t use [juice] as a primary health source,” she said.
The HSR system takes into account beneficial components as well as those linked to increased risk of developing chronic diseases.
Ratings are based on:
- Total energy (kilojoules)
- Saturated fat, sodium (salt) and sugar content
- Fibre, protein, fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content
Water ‘the gold standard’
Simone Austin, an accredited dietician and senior dietetic adviser from Dieticians Australia, said there needed to be more education on how to use the HSR system.
“[The system] is about packaged food and should be used for multi-ingredient food — for example, breakfast cereal,” she said.
“The algorithm is really looking at sugar, so the most important thing to remember in this category is that water is the gold standard.”
Orange juice is condensed, meaning it contains more sugar, and in the process of storage and packaging it loses vitamins, fibre and beneficial plant compounds.
Ms Austin said serving size was the concern when it came to fruit juice.
“The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend a serving size of 125 millilitres of fruit juice, so if you are drinking more than that a day, you are drinking a lot of sugar,” she said.
“In general, I would be saying 125mL of [100 per cent] fruit juice would be my preference over soft drink, but it is an individual thing.”
Sugar high on radar
Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin said the revised rating on juice now lined up with the science.
Her group was part of the development and consultation of the HSR system in 2014.
“The public does not understand that juice is high in sugar,” Ms Martin said.
One hundred per cent fruit juice is now ranked lower on the HSR system compared to diet soft drink.
Manufacturers can choose whether to add the stars to their labelling.
Ms Martin said the system was not perfect but did help to inform shoppers when comparing brands.
“The evidence around diet drinks is changing over time and I’m not sure how the modelling will play out, because health star ratings are based around sugar,” she said.
“So it’s likely that there will be a spread and some lower fruit juice drinks are high in rating.
Juicer to pulp logo
Nippy’s Group managing director Jeff Knisbel said the new rating would send a negative message and confuse consumers.
“Our intention would be to remove the logo,” he said.
“It would be very poor management of our businesses if we leave a negative message, or if we continue and instead of putting five stars on our packaging as a health rating score, we put two.
“For the life of me I can’t work out why, if you take fruit and vegetables, take the juice out of it and put it in a package, it goes from being a healthy product to an unhealthy product.
“I don’t know what’s changed in the logic for the folk who are making these decisions, but up until today, orange or vegetable juice with no added sugar has got a 5/5, and now it’s finished up at 2/5.
“So it’s gone from being perfectly healthy to unhealthy — 2/5.
Whole fruit different
Leanne Elliston, a dietician with Nutrition Australia, said a health rating had to be arrived at for condensed [higher sugar content] juice in comparison to a whole piece of fruit.
“In whole fruit, the sugars are intact within the structure of the fruit and how nature intends us to consume sugars — that’s what’s going to get us a five-star rating,” she said.
However, Ms Elliston agreed that fruit juice should receive a higher HSR than soft drink.
“They need to take into account nutritional value,” she said.
“Fruit juice does contain some nutritional value — it has some vitamin C.”