Juice boxes: are they really any better than soda?

Posted by
July 1, 2014



I’d be hard pressed to find anyone, outside of maybe the beverage industry, who considers soda to be a “healthy” drink – especially since high fructose corn syrup came to be the sweetening agent in nearly all caloric soft drinks, a development that coincided with “epidemics” of obesity and diabetes never seen when old-fashioned sugar was used.

But what about juice and juice drinks – especially the kind found in those super-convenient boxes that have become today’s ‘beverage rage’, especially with kids who always seem to be chugging from them?

Of course it all depends on what’s actually in those little aseptic containers. Not all juice boxes are created equal, as you’ll discover if you bother to examine the ingredients in the various ones that sit side-by-side in the juice-box aisle of your supermarket.

For instance, you might be surprised to learn that, just like soda, some are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Some can be very sneaky, like Kraft’s CapriSun juice drinks. It’s hyped as containing “no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives” and “25% less sugar than leading regular juice drinks,” but has HFCS as the second ingredient after water.  The same goes for Hi-C fruit-flavored drinks, made by Coca-Cola.

But if a “juice drink” with HFCS as its main flavoring ingredient isn’t exactly the kind you had in mind, there are better choices available, such as Honest Kids Organic Juice Drink, made by Honest Tea. It says it has “one-half the sugar” of other such beverages.  While it may sell for a bit more, on our trip to the store, it was on sale as the same price as the HFCS-laced CapriSun.

CapriSun, however, does offer an HFCS-free “all natural 100% juice” in juice boxes. Nestle’s Juicy Juice Fruitfuls “flavored juice beverage blends” also have no HFCS listed among their ingredients.

What else is in that fruit-flavored water?

That’s not to say that fruit juice – even without HFCS and other additives – is necessarily an advisable choice, either. There has been some controversy lately about the fructose such products contain and its effect on our metabolism when it’s unaccompanied by the fiber found in actual fruit. Dr. Michael Goran, who recently found higher-than-expected fructose levels in soft drinks, is one expert who has raised a red flag about this. His recommendation is that if you’re going to buy juice at the store, it be diluted with 50 percent water.

Now, that should seemingly be no problem for juice-box purchasers who are concerned about this, as there are now fruit-flavored water drinks available in juice boxes  (if we can still refer to them as such).

But hold on! Before you opt for the one that advertises itself as a “fun way for kids to hydrate” — CapriSun’s “Roarin’ Waters” Flavored Water Beverage – there’s something you should know.  That’s right – just like the brand’s fruit drinks, it contains high fructose corn syrup as its second ingredient – not to mention Splenda (sucralose) artificial sweetener.

A far better choice is Apple & Eve Water Fruits, which says it contains “real fruit juice and coconut water” and “no bad stuff,” meaning artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, artificial colors and high fructose corn syrup.”

After all, it’s bad enough that soda contains all that “bad stuff.”  You certainly don’t need to have it added to whatever alternative beverages are in those little boxes you might either give your kids or choose to bring along on a family picnic, hike or volleyball game.