Michelle Obama has been advocating for children’s health for years, including with her Let’s Move campaign while in the White House. Now the former first lady is looking to change the food and beverage industry by announcing that she is the co-founder and strategic partner of PLEZi Nutrition, which just launched a new juice drink for kids.
The drinks are meant to be an alternative to sugary drinks that children often consume, which are the No. 1 of added sugars in the diets of American children. Nearly two-thirds of children drink at least one sugary drink a day.
So is PLEZi a healthier option? Here’s what nutritionists have to say.
What is PLEZi?
The drinks are for kids ages 6 and up and claim to have no added sugar, 75% less sugar than the leading 100% fruit juices, and less sweetness overall. Each 8-ounce serving has 35 calories and contains about a cup of juice, with water as the main ingredient.
PLEZi’s website says water and milk, as well as fruits and vegetables, are still the best options for your kids, but the company acknowledges it’s unrealistic to expect kids to stick to just these two types of beverages.
Sarah Pflugradt, dietitian and founder of Fueling Active Kids, tells Yahoo Life it’s responsible for them to acknowledge that water and milk should be the primary beverages offered.
How do these drinks measure up nutritionally?
Experts agree these drinks can fit into a healthy lifestyle with a few minor caveats.
Unlike 100% fruit juice, PLEZi offers 2 grams of soluble vegetable fiber, which can help with blood sugar, heart health and digestion. In the United States, about 95 percent of adults and children are not meeting their fiber needs (11 to 25 grams of fiber per day for children ages 6 to 17). The amount of fiber in PLEZi drinks is no substitute for eating whole fruit, but dietician Amanda Sauceda tells Yahoo Life it’s nice that a juice actually has fiber.
PLEZi contains 100 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, though dietitian Lauren Manaker tells Yahoo Life that may not be necessary, as most people in the United States aren’t up to this nutrient. Manaker also points out that although the drinks contain only 2 percent of the recommended daily value of magnesium oxide, the mineral isn’t well absorbed and can cause gastrointestinal distress.
But what really stands out with PLEZi is the low amount of sugar per 8-ounce serving: 6 grams versus an average of 20 or more grams of sugar in other juices. Experts note that too much sugar can increase the risk of tooth decay, metabolic syndrome and diabetes in children.
PLEZi significantly reduces sugar using the non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) stevia and monk fruit. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement takes a neutral stance on children’s use of sweeteners and notes that more research is needed because the long-term safety of sweeteners in infancy has not been evaluated. But overall, nonnutritive sweeteners have been linked to fewer dental cavities, though research is mixed on their impact on weight and blood sugar.
Although sweeteners generally taste sweeter than table sugar, PLEZi says their drinks are helping to adjust children’s palates to craving less sweetness overall. Manaker cautions, however, that offering any sweet drink, regardless of the sweetener, can still encourage the consumption of sweet drinks as a habit.
Bottom line, says Pflugradt, when choosing to have your children take stevia or monk fruit, it’s really a personal decision, as research on adults is conflicting as well.
Should children avoid fruit juice or how good is it?
The AAP recommends limiting fruit juice to 4 ounces to 6 ounces per day for children 1 to 6 years old and no more than 8 ounces per day for children 6 to 17 years old.
Despite concerns about having too much sugar, 100% fruit juice provides important nutrients, including calcium, potassium, and vitamin C. Research shows that moderate fruit juice consumption in children and adolescents ages 7 to 18 ( 6 to 8 ounces per day) was not associated with weight gain.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most children don’t meet the daily recommendations for fruit. While this new drink addresses excessive consumption of sugary drinks, one concern is that for some, substituting 100% fruit juice could further reduce produce intake.
The final verdict
Ounce for ounce, at just under $4 for a 4-pack, these drinks command a higher price tag than 100% fruit juice, notes Manaker. If this is out of budget, parents can simply dilute the fruit juice 100% as an alternative.
But overall, experts agree that PLEZi appears to be a reasonable alternative to existing sugary drinks. For children with type 1 diabetes, Pfulgradt adds that PLEZi could allow them to enjoy a drink, which isn’t always possible when trying to control blood sugar.
Adds Pflugradt: It’s important to teach younger children how to keep their balance, which means they should choose water most of the day, but it’s also okay to have a drink like this once a day.
Maxine Yeung is a certified dietitian and health and wellness coach.
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