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The Globe and Mail

The next school vending machine target: cranberry juice

Health experts have long warned us that juice isn't much better for us than pop.  But what if that juice is packed with nutrients?

According to USA Today, the cranberry industry is defending the health benefits of cranberry juice, as the U.S. government prepares to propose new nutrition standards, spurred by first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" anti-obesity initiative.

The guidelines would dictate what may be sold in school vending machines and cafeterias, and some fear they would restrict the sale of sweetened beverages, like cranberry juice, in an effort to cut down on sugar.

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Cranberries are known to be rich in antioxidants, but since they're mouth-puckeringly tart, they're only palatable when sweetened.

"If we're put into a category that says these types of products are unhealthy, we think it would be inaccurate and unfair," Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, told USA Today. "Lumping us in with other beverages that don't have the health benefits associated with them that cranberries do is definitely going to affect our ability to sell cranberry products."

Representatives of the cranberry industry, which also speak on behalf of some Canadian growers, are hoping that a special Congressional Cranberry Caucus can persuade the government to make an exception for cranberry products. As USA Today points out, there's a $2.3 billion school vending machine business at stake, as well as the healthy image of cranberry products.

The bipartisan caucus, led by several lawmakers, has sent letters to agriculture officials and Ms. Obama, touting the benefits of cranberries, such as their role in urinary tract health and their potential to fight cancer.

But do those health benefits outweigh the need to curb children's sugar intake?

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, suggests the answer is no.

"Only 3 percent of kids a year have urinary tract infections, compared to one-third who are overweight," she told the newspaper. "Urinary tract infection is not a booming epidemic. Obesity is."

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Previous reports have warned that even all-natural and no-sugar-added juices can have as much sugar as pop. And experts note that sugar is sugar, no matter the source.

One cup (250 mL) of apple juice contains 114 calories and 29 grams of sugar, according to NBC. One cup of Coke contains 97 calories and 27 grams of sugar.

One cup of Ocean Spray brand cranberry cocktail contains 130 calories and 31 g of sugars.  But as the company notes, it also contains 100 per cent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C.

Which is more important for you when you're making food choices-- the sugar content or the health benefits?

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