It’s Dr. Oz versus the FDA on apple juice and arsenic

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but apple juice? That’s asking for trouble.

Witness the white-hot flames of controversy this week over Dr. Mehmet Oz’s claims that apple juice contains unhealthful levels of arsenic. Here’s the background in a nutshell: On his syndicated television show, Oz made the claims about apple juice containing arsenic, which prompted the Food and Drug Administration and others to fire back, saying that Oz’s claims were unfounded and that the juice was safe to drink.

The Dr. Oz website contains this explainer: “Other countries may use pesticides that contain arsenic, a heavy metal known to cause cancer. After testing dozens of samples from three different cities in America, Dr. Oz discovered that some of the nation’s best known brands of apple juice contain arsenic.”

No way, says the FDA, which fired back with not one but two letters to producers of Oz’s show. The agency says it has monitored apple and other juices for years for arsenic levels. It disputes the high amounts Dr. Oz says he found -- 36 parts per billion -- and adds that in its own tests, including juice from the same lot Dr. Oz tested, levels were at 2 to 6 ppb.

Oz also tested for total arsenic amount, which the FDA says isn’t an accurate reading. Arsenic occurs naturally in foods in organic and inorganic forms, it noted in one of the letters, and only certain levels of inorganic levels are toxic. “We have advised you that the test for total arsenic DOES NOT [all caps is theirs] distinguish inorganic arsenic from organic arsenic.”


But Oz will not go gently into that good apple orchard. He continues to defend his position, even appearing on “World News With Diane Sawyer” recently to throw down with Dr. Richard Besser, the network’s health and medical editor.

On the show, Oz said he wasn’t worried about the short-term effects apple juice may have but was concerned more about what would happen to ensuing generations of apple juice-guzzling kids.

Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was more “meh” about arsenic levels, saying, “When I look at the evidence of what was in those samples of apple and how the study was done, it doesn’t raise concerns to me.”

Maybe what people should be more worried about is the sugar content in apple juice. A cup has about 27 grams, the equivalent of almost 6.5 teaspoons of sugar.

Better to eat a whole apple, which has about 5 grams of fiber and anywhere from 10 to 18 grams of sugar, depending on the variety. A 2009 study in the journal Appetite found that whole apples had a greater effect on satiety compared with applesauce and apple juice. For five weeks, 58 men and women ate an apple, applesauce, apple juice or apple juice with added fiber before a meal (a control group ate nothing before the meal). Those who ate an apple before lunch ate 15% less compared with the control group and less than those who ate applesauce or drank the juices. The participants felt fuller after eating the whole apple as well.

Apples may also reduce the risk of stroke. A study released online today in the Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Assn. looked at fruits and vegetables eaten by 20,069 men and women ages 20 to 65. Researchers divided the produce into colors, such as green, orange/yellow and white. They found that consuming more white fruits and vegetables was linked with a lower incidence of stroke and that apples and pears were most popular in the white fruit and vegetable category.

Has Apple Juice-gate affected how you or your kids will consume the stuff? Let us know.