Watch Out for Imposters
Part 3 of 5

Brayden needed something to drink after school, and he asked his mother to stop by the nearest drive-through on the way home. “No soda,” she said, "You know how bad they are.”

“How about fruit punch?” Brayden asked, “That’s not too bad, is it? At least it’s not a soda.”

You can probably guess that fast-food fruit punch isn’t the best choice. But would you, like Brayden, rank it higher than soda on a healthy beverage scale? From the sound of its name, that would make sense. After all, it sounds like it probably contains some fruit juice and perhaps not nearly as much sugar as soda does.

Like many beverages on the market, however, fruit punch merely sounds like a relatively healthy choice. In reality, most fruit punch is not. Hi-C fruit punch, for example, contains the ever-popular high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as well as artificial flavors, and an eight-ounce serving delivers 26.5 grams of sugar. It does contain some real fruit juice from concentrate, but not enough to justify placing it on your healthy drink menu.

Fruit punch masquerades as a harmless (and sometimes nutritious) beverage, but there are other drinks that are far more misleading. Let’s look at five other common, and often very tricky, imposters of the beverage world. The first two can be especially confusing, so pay attention!

#1 Juiced Up Juice

How could you go wrong with juice? It’s possible! Just because someone slapped the word juice on the label, doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

When you drink many of these so-called juices, you’re getting a lot more in the mix than you counted on. Although many of them add extra nutrients such as vitamin C or calcium, they also contain added sugar, extra flavorings, and preservatives like sodium benzoate, which can be hazardous to your health.

Clues on the Label

Watch out for beverages labeled juice cocktail blends. Some of these often contain more HFCS than fruit juices. Sure, the front of the bottle or can may boast that it’s made with three juices, but look on the back. The label often reveals a concoction that consists of only 10% or 15% juice. So how much does that leave for the water and sweeteners? You do the math!

Also beware of beverages labeled juice drinks, a tip-off that there may be something not natural about it. Take a raspberry flavored juice drink, for example. We’re meant to be impressed by its list of real fruits, but how do we respond to the aspartame and acesulfame listed next? Many nutrition experts consider both of these artificial sweeteners toxic and potentially dangerous. 

Remember, always read the ingredient labels. The nutrition charts may impress you with vitamin content, but they won’t tell you everything. 

#2 The Real Thing—Real Fruits and Vegetables

Many foods and drinks provide their best nutrition in the most natural, least processed, forms. For juice, that means freshly squeezed or prepared in a juicer.

Health experts praise fresh fruit and vegetable juices for their many benefits, “Fruit juices help cleanse the body and nourish it with important nutrients, including cancer-fighting antioxidants,” writes Phyllis Balch in her book Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Balch recommends 10 – 12 ounces per day of any fresh fruit juice that you’d like. If you’re a real health nut, you can add fresh vegetable juices to your menu, as well, “They boost the immune system, remove acid wastes, and balance the metabolism,” says Balch.

Fresh juice can give you the health advantage you need during these important developmental years. Just ask the 15-year-old New Jersey girl who posted her success story on a juicing website. Soon after she began juicing, she saw improvements in her sleep, energy levels, headaches, acne, and allergies. Maybe you’d like to give it a try!

Let’s be realistic, though. Unless your parents already have a juicer, I’m guessing that most of you aren’t suddenly going to start juicing your own fruits and vegetables. Lots of people enjoy the process, but others consider it time-consuming, inconvenient, and too expensive. So, should you forget about juice altogether? Not necessarily.

You should forget about many over-processed store-bought juices. Too much processing destroys most of the nutrients originally present in the juice. If you do opt to buy your juice, however, you can find some good choices. Look for all-natural, organic, 100% juices, with no added sugars or artificial ingredients. If you’re able to spend a little more money occasionally, you can even find cold-pressed juices. During cold-pressing, no heat is applied when the juice is made, thus leaving more of the original nutrients intact.

Sugar Side-note

Please note, however, that fruit juice contains a large amount of concentrated natural sugar. The sugar content for one eight-ounce serving of orange juice, for example, may be as high as 24 grams. For this reason, some researchers contend that a serving of certain fruit juices may be just as bad as a soda! So, some professionals advise not drinking a lot of juice if you need to lose weight, or if you have a problem with blood sugar levels.

According to other research, however, young people ages 12 – 18 will only benefit from 100% juice consumption. A 2010 report in the American Journal of Health Promotion showed that those who drank 100% juice maintained healthier diets and showed no weight gain associated with the juice.            

Better Than Juice

For optimal benefits, eat the whole fruit (or vegetable). The whole fruit contains important elements that you don’t get when you drink just the juice. For example, the edible skins of some fruits, such as apples and grapes, contain fiber and other nutrients you can’t get from the juice alone. However, if you don’t really enjoy eating the whole raw fruit or vegetable, plenty of evidence shows that drinking the juice is a healthy option.

So, the next time you’re looking to replace that soda or sports drink, order a glass of your favorite juice. Just make sure it’s 100% real juice. 

#3 Muddled Milk

You just got home from work. You’re hot and thirsty. A glass of ice cold milk will just hit the spot. Or maybe you’ll run up to the quick mart and get a bottle of chocolate milk. There’s no question about milk, right? With all that calcium, it’s bound to be a healthy choice. It depends….

Forget About It? Or Don’t Go Without It?

Expert opinions about milk run the gamut. Did you know that some nutritionists believe humans should not consume animal milk? Cow’s milk is meant for baby cows, they contend. On the other hand, some professionals push dairy as the major source of calcium for strong bones and teeth. They’ll convince you that, if you don’t drink milk, your bones will begin breaking and your teeth disintegrating.

What’s the truth? Should you drink milk or not? The answer depends on exposing the milk imposters.

Flavored Milk

You can probably guess that chocolate milk, or milk that is otherwise sweetened or flavored, should be moved to your occasional-treats-only list. The sugar overload and other possible additives found in a bottle of chocolate milk will far outweigh the amount of calcium you’ll get from it. (Again, read the labels. You’ll see what I mean!)

Conventional Milk

You might not know, however, that plain white milk often does not live up to its health claims, either. Some types of milk might even harm your health.

Some of the milk on grocery store shelves comes from cows that have been given antibiotics and hormones, some of which ends up in your milk (nice thought, isn’t it?). Milk producers inject artificial hormones (rBGH or rBST) into the cows to increase their milk production. Antibiotics are used to prevent and treat infections often caused by the hormones (poor cows!). Research provides evidence that this hormone-filled milk increases your risk of developing certain types of cancer, according to the Cancer Prevention Coalition.

Low-fat Milk

Other milk imposters include the low-fat and skim varieties. For years, medical experts have advised us to consume reduced-fat dairy products, in order to avoid weight gain and other diseases. More recent research proves the exact opposite….

Consuming the healthy fats in whole milk lowers your risk of developing diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and weight gain. When you drink low-fat milk, on the other hand, you’re not only missing out on these health benefits, but you’re also consuming the extra sugars that are normally added to many low-fat products.

Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, questioned the wisdom of recommending low-fat milk. In a 2013 JAMA Pediatrics article, he noted that lowering the fat but increasing the sugars to improve flavor “clearly undermines diet quality.”

All Milk?

Ludwig even questions the need for any milk at all in the human diet: “Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk….Adequate dietary calcium for bone health…can be obtained from many other sources.”

Vivian Goldschmidt, author of the Save Our Bones program, goes one step further. Not only does she believe that milk is not needed, but she also warns that all milk can be detrimental. Because of its chemical make-up, she explains, it ends up leaching the calcium from your bones. Modern homogenization and pasteurization processes intensify this effect, she believes.

Other nutritionists and health experts disagree and point to evidence showing that milk can provide lots of benefits, if you consume the right kind.

So you don’t want to pick up just any old milk from the shelf.

#4 The Real Thing—Down on the Farm

When it comes to milk, the purest form may be difficult to get. Why? Because the purest form comes straight from a cow!

Some nutritionists and doctors advocate the consumption of raw, organic milk from grass-fed cows because of its superior nutrition. Among other nutrients, raw milk provides generous doses of vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K, essential minerals, and the good bacteria you need for a healthy gut. 

Why is raw milk superior? Most milk is pasteurized, meaning that it’s heated in order to kill any possible bacteria. But this process also destroys many of milk’s health benefits. Raw milk producers don’t pasteurize the milk (that’s why we call it raw).

If you can ensure your raw milk comes from a small, clean farm, you can consume it safely, even though it isn’t pasteurized. Unfortunately, the sale of raw milk has produced lots of controversy and isn’t even legal in some states. So you might not be able to find it easily.

The Next Best Thing

Your next best option, then, is organic pasteurized milk, preferably from grass-fed cows. Organic milk has more healthy fats than conventional milk and contains fewer of the fats you don’t need, according to results of a recent study published by the Public Library of Science. And although raw milk does retain many more nutrients, organic pasteurized milk from grass-fed cows still provides more vitamin E, beta carotene, and antioxidants than conventional milk, concluded scientists from the Danish Institute of Agricultural Research.

Perhaps most important, organic milk won’t contain any harmful components. By law, any milk labeled organic cannot be produced by using any growth hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides. Even if you can’t buy organic, at the very least, make sure the label says rBGH-free (or rBST-free).

Beyond the Cow

Maybe you’d rather not deal with all of this cow milk controversy at the moment. You don’t have to. The next time you want to eat a big bowl of cereal with milk or to prepare your favorite smoothie, simply turn to one of the many milk alternatives.

If you’re allergic to cow’s milk, then you’ve probably already investigated the great variety available—almond milk, goat’s milk, coconut milk, rice milk…and, one of my personal favorites, flax milk (yes, it’s made from flax seeds and sounds terrible, but you might be pleasantly surprised when you taste it). As always, read the ingredient labels of any milk you choose and be on the lookout for added sugars or other unnecessary ingredients. Look for milk labeled unsweetened.

If you do drink cow’s milk, and you don’t have access to clean, raw milk, pick up whole organic milk—or don’t drink it all. Remember, most experts agree that there are many other ways to get your calcium. Don’t rely on hormone-filled conventional milk that masquerades as your only alternative.

Continue reading part 4 to discover three more imposters. What do you think they might be?

Written by Beth W. Prassel-Sieg


Part 1:
Cross Off the Pop

Part 2:
Eliminate the Worst Offenders

Part 4:
Three More Imposters Exposed 

Part 5:
I’ll Just Have Water…

Good habits formed at youth make all of the difference in life. Aristotle