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100% Confusion

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But the push to position juice as the healthy alternative to soft drinks is not quite so simple, nutrition experts say.

"Parents have to look carefully at the label and see what percentage of fruit juice a drink really contains," says Gail Rampersaud, a University of Florida dietitian.

Products labeled a juice "drink," "-ade" or "punch" often contain only 5 percent juice or less. "They're basically just high-fructose corn syrup and water," Rampersaud says. The only thing that makes these fruity drinks slightly better than soda, she notes, is that they're often fortified with vitamin C.

Adding vitamin C is "just a marketing ploy," contends Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocate group. "It's not nutritionally necessary. Drink makers put it in for the halo effect -- to make their product seem nutritious when it's really no better than soda."

Wootan cites, in particular, beverages such as Sunny Delight, Capri Sun, Tropicana Twisters, Kool-Aid Jammers and Hi-C as the nutritional equivalent of "soda without the bubbles" because of the tiny amount of actual juice they contain.

In a recent survey, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that while 22 states restrict the sale of sugary soft drinks in schools for some grade levels for at least some part of the day, only 12 regulate the sale of fruit drinks. Wootan would like to see school districts offer bottled water and drinks that contain no less than 50 percent fruit juice and no added sweeteners.

Her personal preference for a soda alternative in schools is a drink made from seltzer water combined with a little fruit juice "so it's bubbly and a little sweet, but still healthy."

Juice mixed with water is what Kerner gave his son when he was 2 -- and it's what gave him the idea for a new drink line for kids. "My pediatrician told me that pure juice was too sugary for him, but I could water it down," he says. "That's how I came up with WaddaJuice."


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