CITRUS growers are fighting back against misleading reports that orange juice is as high in sugar and nutritionally bereft as soft drink.Growers in the Murray Valley are supporting a campaign launched last month in Florida to better educate consumers about the benefits of consuming pure orange juice as part of a balanced diet.
Murray Valley Citrus chief executive Hugh Flett said he was aware of a number of nutritionists, dentists and others who had referred to sugar levels in orange juice in the same breath as blaming soft drinks for tooth decay and obesity.
''Where the confusion lies is in the difference between manufactured orange juice versus pure natural orange juice,'' he said.
''The citrus industry is saying there's two ways to gain the benefits of oranges: eat the whole fruit or drink 100 per cent natural juice.
''We're not advocating the addition of sugar or frozen juice concentrate.
''We encourage all Australian consumers to drink fresh or 100 per cent fresh orange juice. Then they can be assured the contents of the bottle have been grown, manufactured and packed within Australia.''
Mr Flett said all products were different, so it was important to read product labels to check whether any sugar had been added.
Unlike soft drink, which is usually made up of carbonated water, sugar and flavouring, orange juice contains important health-giving nutrients such as vitamin C, folic acid and potassium.
Fruit Juice Australia chief executive Geoff Parker told last year's annual citrus conference at Leeton that orange juice accounted for 34 per cent of all juice sales and Australian households consumed about 50 litres of each year.
But fruit juice consumption was in decline against other beverages, with huge recent growth in sports drinks and caffeinated energy drinks (up 29.8 per cent), ready to drink tea products (up 14.4 per cent).
The FJA also wants to see rational debate on fruit juice and Australian diets.
Mr Parker said the most current and statistically significant scientific evidence finds no link between obesity and fruit juice intake.
''A small glass of 100 per cent juice counts as one fruit serve and delivers many of the same vitamins, phytonutrients, and antioxidants.
''In fact, without juice, many kids don't get their recommended serve of fruit each day.
''More than 50 per cent of children up to 13 and almost 99 per cent of Australian teenagers up to 16 fail to reach the recommended requirements of fruit intake.''
The Florida Department of Citrus has developed a website, floridajuice.com/health-professionals, which documents the nutritional and health benefits of consuming 100 per cent orange juice.
Last month the Cancer Council, Diabetes Australia and the National Heart Foundation of Australia called for immediate action by governments, schools and non-government organisations such as sport centres to tackle one of the key contributors to obesity in Australia – sugary drinks.
They said consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, which include all non-alcoholic water-based beverages with added sugar such as soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drinks and sports drinks, was associated with a range of serious health issues including weight gain and obesity, which in turn are risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Cancer Council spokesman Craig Sinclair said it was time for Australians to rethink sugary drinks and switch to water or low-fat milk.
A 2007 Australian National Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found 47 per cent of children consumed sugar-sweetened beverages daily, with 25 per cent consuming sugary softdrinks daily.
''Sugary drinks shouldn't be part of a daily diet – many people would be surprised to know that a regular 600ml softdrink contains about 16 packs of sugar and that's a lot of empty kilojoules. Yet they're being consumed at levels that can lead to serious health issues for the population.''
A comparison of the sugar content of a number of beverages by Weekly Times Now shows it's not just how much sugar the product contains, but the serve size that also counts.
Unsweetened orange juice typically contains 7-9g of sugar per 100ml, but a Hungry Jacks 651ml orange juice delivers 59.2g (or almost 15 teaspoons) of sugar in one hit.
Soft drinks contain about 9-12g of sugar per 100ml, sports drinks can vary from 6-14g per 100ml, while energy drinks range from 11.4-22.1g per 100ml.
A regular McDonalds chai frappe contains 11.25 teaspoons of sugar and a 500ml can of Monster original contains the equivalent of 14.5 teaspoons of sugar.