Fruit juices are known to be high in sugars, but they could also pose another health risk: potentially harmful levels of heavy metals, according to testing conducted by Consumer Reports, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
In its analysis of 45 popular fruit juices sold across the country, Consumer Reports found that nearly half contained unacceptable levels of inorganic arsenic, lead, or cadmium.
Children, who are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of heavy metals, drink a lot of fruit juice. More than 80 percent of parents of children three and under give their kids juice at least sometimes, according to a recent national Consumer Reports survey. In 74 percent of those cases, kids drink juice once a day or more. Yet, ingesting heavy metals can put kids at risk for lowered IQ, behavioral problems, type-2 diabetes, and cancer, among other health issues, depending on how long they are exposed to these toxins.
“Our latest tests found that some fruit juices have elevated levels of heavy metals that could pose health risks, especially to children,” said James Dickerson, Ph.D., chief scientific officer for Consumer Reports. “However, we are pleased to see lower levels of heavy metals than when we last tested for these elements several years ago. This suggests that safer juices can be produced, and we encourage the industry to act to further reduce risk because we know it is possible.”
Heavy metals can harm adults, too. Even modest amounts over time may raise the risk of bladder, lung, and skin cancer; cognitive and reproductive problems; and type 2 diabetes, among other conditions.
“The risk comes from chronic exposure, and that risk is avoidable,” Dickerson said.
In 2011, Consumer Reports found elevated levels of inorganic arsenic and lead in apple and grape juices. These latest tests were conducted to see whether products have improved since then, to examine other types of juice, and to test for additional heavy metals – cadmium and mercury.
This time Consumer Reports tested 45 non-refrigerated, ready-to-drink juices in four flavors: apple, fruit juice blends, grape, and pear. The samples were from 24 different national, store, and private-label brands. Among Consumer Reports’ findings:
- Every product had measurable levels of at least one of these heavy metals: cadmium, inorganic arsenic, lead, or mercury.
- Twenty-one or 47 percent of the 45 juices had concerning levels of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, and/or lead. None contained concerning levels of mercury.
- Seven juices could harm children who drink half a cup or more a day, and nine more pose risks to kids at one cup or more a day.
- Ten of the juices pose a risk to adults: five at half a cup or more per day, and five more at one cup or more a day.
- Grape juice and juice blends had the highest average heavy metal levels. Two Welch’s products, Welch’s 100% Juice Antioxidant Superberry and Welch’s 100% Concord Grape Juice, had lead levels that exceeded the FDA standard for bottled water.
- Organic juices didn’t have lower levels of heavy metals than conventional ones.
The results of the Consumer Reports investigation, including how specific brands fared and how consumers can protect themselves and their families, can be found at ConsumerReports.org.
Consumer Reports is calling on the government to set a long-term goal of no measurable heavy metals in fruit juice. Few limits on heavy metals in juice are in place, he said.
For example, in 2013 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed limiting the amount of inorganic arsenic in apple juice to 10 parts per billion, the federal arsenic standard for drinking water. In Consumer Reports’ current tests, one sample, Trader Joe’s Fresh Pressed Apple Juice tested higher. The FDA previously told Consumer Reports that the limit would be finalized by the end of 2018, but it’s still not been issued.
“We encourage the FDA to finalize the limit as soon as possible,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumer Reports. “And we have urged the agency to establish an even lower threshold for inorganic arsenic in juice at 3 ppb since we know that’s possible. Fifty-eight percent of the juices we tested had levels below 3 ppb.”
Consumer Reports doesn’t agree that the current FDA guideline for lead in juice – 50 ppb – is low enough. The standard for bottled water is 5 ppb. As with arsenic, Consumer Reports’ testing showed that it’s possible for manufacturers to sharply reduce the amount of lead in their products. More than half or 53 percent of the tested juices had levels of 1 ppb or less.
For cadmium, the FDA hasn’t proposed a limit on juice. However, Consumer Reports supports a limit of 1 ppb of cadmium in juice. Only three of the tested products had cadmium levels higher than that.
Consumer Reports encourages parents to limit children’s exposure to heavy metals in fruit juice by limiting how much fruit juice they drink. Parents should also limit their children’s consumption of other foods high in these toxins, such as rice and rice products, chocolate, and sweet potatoes.