On Wednesday morning Consumer Reports released the results of its recent investigation into the amount of heavy metals in fruit juices. Parents woke up to find headlines like "Your fruit juice contains arsenic, cadmium and lead" in their newsfeeds as many kids around the country were sipping juice with breakfast.
Such headlines can raise parental anxiety, but Motherly spoke with James Dickerson, Ph.D., Consumer Reports' chief scientific officer, and he has a message for parents: "Don't panic." According to Dickerson, you don't have to throw away your fruit juices, but you might want to be more mindful about portion sizes and frequency.
The investigation saw Consumer Reports test 45 fruit juices (apple, grape, pear, and fruit blends) sold in stores across America for elevated levels of the heavy metals: Arsenic, mercury cadmium, and lead. Exposure to heavy metals has been linked with health issues including diabetes, cancer, and cognitive and behavioral issues, the investigators note.
Dickerson also notes that the heavy elements investigated are naturally occurring: "They're in the atmosphere, they're in the soil, they're everywhere. You cannot eliminate them 100%. That's not possible."
That being said, we can and should try to reduce our exposure to products with elevated levels.
Consumer Reports notes that the investigation was not meant to "draw definitive conclusions about specific brands" (but more information on the brands tested and how they scored can be found on the Consumer Reports website) but rather as a spot check on the entire market.
It found that elevated levels of heavy metals in almost half the juices, levels that can be harmful when people are chronically exposed, and as little as 4 ounces a day could be enough to cause that kind of chronic exposure. And four ounces isn't a lot.
"If you take the average person and give them a bottle of juice and give them the average glass, they pour it in. You are going to pour, more likely than not, eight ounces of juice," Dickerson tells Motherly.
He's not at all suggesting that parents ban juice, but rather that we consider reducing our kids' consumption "not just in terms of the frequency but also the amount."
The new report follows a similar investigation in 2011, and Dickerson says that while fruit juices still contain levels of heavy metals that can e harmful in cases of chronic exposure, the industry has taken steps to make juices safer.
"If you look at the state of heavy elements of juice back in 2011 compared to our most recent study the levels on average were substantially lower now than they were back in 2011," he tells Motherly.
Dickerson applauds the industry for making the changes that brought down those levels, but says more changes in the manufacturing process, and in Washington, could make juices even safer.
Consumer Reports is encouraging manufacturers to do better at sourcing the raw fruit for juices to ensure the initial fruit has fewer heavy metals. The equipment used to make the juice and containers it is sold in can also play a role, and Dickerson encourages manufacturers to "address those potential exposures at the sourcing, at the manufacturing, at the bottling points, to try to make sure that their products have as minimal as possible contaminants."
He's also calling for the FDA to finalize specific limits for the amount of inorganic arsenic, lead and cadmium acceptable in juices.
The bottom line for parents: Consider smaller servings of juice on fewer occasions if you want to reduce your family's exposure to heavy metals.
The American Academy of Pediatrics already recommends no fruit juice for kids under one, and only small amounts in moderation for older kids. According to the AAP, juice should not be a substitute for fresh fruit, as it's got more sugar and calories but none of the fiber.