Michelle Obama launches a new juice drink for kids. Here's what nutritionists say about it.
The drinks are meant to be a healthier alternative to the sugary beverages kids often consume.
Michelle Obama has been advocating for children’s health for years, including with her “Let’s Move” campaign while in the White House. Now the former first lady is looking to change the food and beverage industry, announcing that she’s the co-founder and strategic partner of PLEZi Nutrition, which just launched a new juice drink for kids.
The drinks are meant to be an alternative to the sugary beverages kids often consume, which are the No. 1 source of added sugar in American children’s diets. Close to two-thirds of children have at least one sugary drink per day.
So is PLEZi a healthier option? Here’s what nutritionists have to say.
What is PLEZi?
The drinks are for kids ages 6 and up and claim to have no added sugar, 75% less sugar than leading 100% fruit juices and less sweetness overall. Each 8-ounce serving has 35 calories and contains about ¼ cup juice, with water being the main ingredient.
PLEZi’s website states that water and milk, as well as fruits and vegetables, are “still the best options for your kids,” but the company acknowledges that it’s unrealistic to expect children to stick only to those two types of beverages.
Sarah Pflugradt, dietitian and founder of Fueling Active Kids, tells Yahoo Life that it’s “responsible on their part to recognize that water and milk should be the primary drinks offered.”
How do these drinks measure nutritionally?
Experts agree these drinks can fit into a healthy lifestyle — with some minor caveats.
Unlike 100% fruit juice, PLEZi offers 2 grams of soluble vegetable fiber, which can help with blood sugar, heart health and digestion. In the U.S., about 95% of adults and children are not meeting their fiber needs (11 to 25 grams of fiber daily for ages 6 to 17 years). The amount of fiber in PLEZi drinks doesn’t replace eating whole fruit, but dietitian Amanda Sauceda tells Yahoo Life that it’s nice for a juice to actually have some fiber.
PLEZi contains 100% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, though dietitian Lauren Manaker tells Yahoo Life this might not be necessary, as most people in the U.S. don’t fall short of this nutrient. Manaker also points out that, while the drinks have only 2% of the recommended daily value of magnesium oxide, the mineral isn’t well-absorbed and “may cause GI distress.”
But what really stands out with PLEZi is the reduced amount of sugar per 8-ounce serving: 6 grams versus an average of 20 or more grams of sugar in other juices. Experts note that too much sugar may increase children’s risk for cavities, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
PLEZi significantly reduces sugar by using the non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) stevia and monk fruit. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) policy statement takes a neutral stance on the consumption of sweeteners by kids, and notes that further research is needed since the long term safety of sweeteners in childhood has not been assessed. But in general, non-nutritive sweeteners have been linked to fewer dental caries, though research is mixed on their impact on weight and blood sugar.
Although sweeteners generally taste sweeter than table sugar, PLEZi says their drinks are helping to adjust kids’ palates “to crave less sweetness overall.” Manaker cautions, however, that “offering any sweet drinks, no matter the sweetener, can still encourage the consumption of sweet beverages as a habit.”
Bottom line, says Pflugradt, “When choosing to let your kids consume stevia or monk fruit, it’s really a personal decision, as even the research on adults is conflicting.”
Should kids avoid fruit juice — or how much is OK?
The AAP recommends limiting fruit juice to 4 ounces to 6 ounces per day for children ages 1 to 6 years old, and no more than 8 ounces per day for kids 6 to 17 years old.
Despite the concern of having too much sugar, 100% fruit juice provides important nutrients, including calcium, potassium and vitamin C. Research shows that in kids and adolescents 7 to 18 years old that moderate fruit juice consumption (6 to 8 ounces per day) was not associated with weight gain.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most children are not meeting their daily recommendations for fruit. While this new drink addresses the overconsumption of sweetened beverages, one concern is that for some, replacing 100% fruit juice may further reduce produce intake.
The final verdict
Ounce for ounce, at just under $4 for a 4-pack, these drinks come in at a higher price point than 100% fruit juice, notes Manaker. If that’s out of budget, parents can simply dilute 100% fruit juice as an alternative.
But overall, experts agree that PLEZi seems to be a reasonable alternative to existing sugary drinks. For kids with Type 1 diabetes, Pfulgradt adds that PLEZi could “allow them to have a ‘fun’ drink, which is not always possible when looking to control blood sugar.”
Adds Pflugradt: “It’s important to teach younger children how to balance, meaning they should choose water for most of the day, but it’s OK to have a drink like this once per day as well.”
Maxine Yeung is a dietitian and board certified health and wellness coach.
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