Research Nonsense .. Again

Today’s Headline Follies: “Fruit juice increases your risk of early death!”

Nowadays, my first thought when reading these headlines is “who funds this junk research?” And what were the preconceived prejudices of the researchers? I know why we have the headlines: click bait. Sure sounds alarming — fruit juice causes early death! Like, at age 25 maybe? Or 29?

The actual research report told a rather different story:

  • Some 13,000+ people, average age almost 64 were asked to fill out a food frequency questionnaire about what they ate and drank for a whole year.
  • The list on the questionnaire was limited to 110 foods.
  • 70% of the subjects were obese, so already predisposed to developing serious chronic disease.
  • The subjects were enrolled for 10 years, and any deaths for any reason were recorded.

OK let’s think about this.

When you go to the grocery store, how many foods do you see on the aisles? Just 110? According to the Food Marketing Institute, the average grocery store has over 30,000 products. Not to mention all the thousands of foods people buy at fast food or take out or sit down restaurants, not to mention foods purchased at convenience stores and stadium events.

How about the juice aisle? There are hundreds of possible choices now for what we call juice, including actual 100% fruit juice, not to mention scads of “juice drinks”, which are basically sweetened, flavored juice-like concoctions that might have 10% actual juice? Maybe. Did the questionnaire distinguish between real 100% juice and not-so-real?

Did some of the respondents give the “right” answer to the scientists, so as to look like good health conscious people? “Oh I drink something apple flavored, I’ll say it’s 100% juice, that sounds good.” Because peoples’ definition of ‘juice’ now includes anything with a fruit in the product name, from fruit-flavored sugar-sweetened juice-like beverages to health-halo smoothies made with fruit flavors and sherbet to fruit flavored sports drinks.

Another problem: 12 ounces of juice????…???..!! Really? That’s a huge glass? Does anyone remember when the standard breakfast juice glass was 4 oz, a mere half cup? When did it expand to 12 oz? Why did the researchers pick that number? Did the respondents understand what 12 oz looks like?

Then there’s the real elephant in the room: asking people to recall what they ate over the past year. Honestly, who does research this way anymore? This sort of diet research is notorious for producing garbage data. Can you remember what you ate last week, let alone 9 or 10 months ago?

Here’s another problem: higher consumption of all sugary beverages might just be a marker for a certain type of unhealthy lifestyle. You know: sedentary, lots of processed food, few vegetables or whole fruit or grains, heavy on junk food. I know no one who eats a healthy diet who consumes high amounts of any sugary beverages of any kind whatsoever. So I’ll hazard an answer to my own question: high consumption of sugary beverages is a marker for poor lifestyle choices.

Or a marker for a generally sugary breakfast? What do you have with your big glass of juice? A donut? A Danish? Toast with jelly? A bowl of sugary cereal? Pancakes drowned in syrup? Now the juice is a marker for a high sugar breakfast. Did the 110-item food frequency questionnaire sort that out? I think not.

Moving right along. There’s a serious problem with the headlines. Here’s the conclusion from the actual study report:

The findings of this study suggest that higher consumption of sugary beverages, including fruit juices, among older adults is associated with increased all-cause mortality.

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2733424

All sugary beverages, including soft drinks, were implicated, not just juice. But it sure sounds exciting to scream “Juice Causes Early Death !!!!” Click Bait!

Take Away Message

Sugary beverages to limit or avoid for a whole lot of reasons, like they’re junky, highly processed, sugar sweetened and crowd out wholesome food:

  • soda pop
  • sports drinks (unless you’re running a marathon)
  • juice “drinks”
  • fruit ades
  • smoothies made with sugary ingredients
  • sugar-sweetened coffee and tea drinks (bet the researchers forgot to ask about those)
  • sweet tea — many of the subjects were from the South, where sweet tea is common, and is usually even sweeter than soda pop, if that’s possible.
  • sugar-sweetened cocktails and alcoholic beverages (bet the researchers forgot to ask about those, too)

If you like to drink 100% fruit juice with breakfast, or sometime during the day, feel free. If you’re avoiding all those other sugary drinks, a simple glass of orange juice isn’t going to lead to early death.

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