Apple juice: It’s the golden elixir of childhood, considered by our parents’ generation to be the healthiest thing to feed kids since chicken soup.To today’s parents, apple juice has become just the opposite. The sticky-sweet taste comes with extra sugar and calories that contribute to rising childhood obesity levels, and in recent months, there’s been intense public debate around potentially dangerous concentrations of the posion arsenic in apple juice.Now, Consumer Reports has published the results of a large-scale investigation into arsenic and lead levels in popular brands of apple juice and grape juice.Ten percent of the 88 juice samples tested contained arsenic levels that exceeded federal drinking water limits of 10 parts per billion (ppb). Twenty-five percent of the samples contained lead levels greater than 5 ppb, the safety level set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for bottled water. Most of the arsenic found in the juices was inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen.COLUMN: Banning Chocolate Milk From Children’s LunchesThe magazine tested a sampling of juices bought in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and should be considered a spot check of local juices rather than a full-scale investigation, since arsenic and lead levels can vary widely within brands. For a list of the brands that tested poorly, visit Consumer Reports.But this inconsistency means that high levels of the harmful substances could be found in any apple and grape juices—not just those tested—and we are unable to tell if any are completely safe.Consumer Reports began their investigation this fall after Dr. Oz made headlines with a juice test he commissioned for “The Dr. Oz Show,” finding that ten of three dozen sampled tested contained arsenic levels over 10 ppb.Currently, no federal limit exists for arsenic or lead in juice.That may be about to change: The FDA announced in a letter sent to the agency Food and Water Watch that it’s seriously considering setting guidance levels for inorganic arsenic in apple juice, and is now collecting data to determine that level. In testing between 2008 and 2011 of 160 juice samples, the agency found 5 percent had arsenic levels exceeding 23 ppb. Eight of the apple juice samples contained arsenic levels up to 45 ppb. You can see the FDA’s full analytical results here.“Our test findings of arsenic and lead in apple juice are in line with existing data from the Food and Drug Administration,” Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Director of Safety & Sustainability at Consumer Reports, said in a press release. “In fact, the agency has found higher levels of arsenic and lead in apple juice. We’re concerned about the potential risks of exposure to these toxins especially for children who are particularly vulnerable because of their small body size and the amount of juice they regularly consume.”COLUMN: Sneaky Sugar SourcesConsumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is urging the federal government to establish a standard of 3 ppb for total arsenic and 5 ppb for lead in juice. Forty-one percent of the juice samples Consumer Reports tested actually met both thresholds.While this news should be a concern to all of us (an analysis of federal health data from 2003 though 2008 found that apple and grape juice are a significant source of dietary exposure to arsenic), it’s especially relevant to parents.According to a Consumer Reports poll, 35 percent of children five and younger drink juice in quantities exceeding pediatricians’ recommendations. Kids’ smaller bodies make them more susceptible to the effects of arsenic and lead exposure, which have been found in studies to be related to poor scores in language, memory and other brain functions, along with bladder, lung, and skin cancer and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, immunodeficiencies and type two diabetes.QUIZ: Measure Your Daily DietWhat should concerned parents do? Follow these guidelines from The American Academy of Pediatrics on juice consumption in children to help cut obesity risks and tooth decay. Any decrease in juice will also reduce possible exposure to arsenic and lead.1. Juice should not be introduced prior to six months of age.
3. Juice should not be given at bedtime.
4. Juice should be limited to four to six ounces a day for children one to six years old.
Read the story at Consumer Reports for a full list of juice brands to avoid for now, and keep abreast of the FDA’s decisions on regulating these harmful chemicals.But juice is something children and adults alike should move away from in the long run. It drastically ups our intake of sugar and calories, which are equally bad for health and beauty—no matter what your age.MORE: Toxic Ingredient Cheat Sheet