Arsenic and Apple Juice: What Parents Need to Know
In a move likely to spell relief for many parents, especially those who watch and enjoy The Dr. Oz Show, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new "action level" for how much inorganic arsenic apple juice can contain. The new regulation will require no more than 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in apple juice, the same standard currently set for drinking water by the Environmental Protection Agency and for bottled water by the FDA .
Responsible for testing hundreds of foods and beverages for various substances that potentially cause harm, the FDA has monitored the amounts of arsenic in the food supply for decades. Although the agency has consistently found relatively low levels of arsenic in apple juice, it recently stepped up testing and analysis of apple juice. After assessing the risk of long-term exposure to arsenic from apple juice, the FDA set this new cap, specifically for inorganic arsenic—the kind of arsenic found to be harmful over the long-term.
Widespread concern about arsenic in apple juice, one the most popular kids' beverages, became a topic of conversation—and debate—in 2011 when The Dr. Oz Show did it's own investigation. When it looked at three dozen samples from five different brands of apple juice, it found 10 samples that had higher levels of total arsenic than allowed in drinking or bottled water. On Good Morning America, ABC News' Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser called out his friend, Dr. Mehmet Oz, about what he thought were "extremely irresponsible" statements made on The Dr. Oz Show. "You have informed parents they are poisoning their children," Besser said—and Oz denied.
Soon after, the FDA refuted the findings reported by The Dr. Oz Show, saying "It would be irresponsible and misleading to suggest that apple juice contains unsafe amounts of arsenic based on tests for total arsenic." While both forms of arsenic—organic and inorganic—are found naturally in soil and water, and in small amounts in some foods and beverages, the FDA is most concerned about inorganic arsenic. And even though the FDA says organic forms of arsenic are essentially harmless, it acknowledges studies that suggest two forms of organic arsenic found in apple juice— dimethylarsinic acid (DMA) and monomethylarsinic acid (MMA)—may prove to be a health concern.
While it's great that the FDA has taken a step to assure parents that the apple juice they buy for their children won't have excessive amounts of inorganic arsenic in it, the bottom line about feeding kids hasn't changed. As I stated when the apple juice and arsenic controversy first erupted, it's prudent and wise to give your kids a varied diet by offering different foods and beverages from all the basic food categories. Mixing up their daily—or even weekly—diet helps them consume a wide range of nutrients. At the same time, it limits their exposure to potentially harmful ingredients any one food or beverage contains.
If you choose to give it to your children in small portions, apple juice—like all 100 percent fruit juices—can fit into a nutritious diet. So can brown rice, another arsenic-containing food being studied by the FDA. But the bottom line when it comes to feeding your kids healthfully and nutritiously, and empowering them to make their own food choices, is that it's far better to focus on the overall dietary pattern and lifestyle than on any one nutrient or (unhealthy) food or beverage component.
Image of splash juice with apple via Shutterstock.