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Danger at the juice bar?

The next time you’re in a search of a smoothie, be sure you know what kind of punch it’s packing
/ Source: msnbc.com

Over $1 billion is being spent nationwide by fitness buffs and dieters in search of a healthy fix at the many juice and smoothie bars popping up across the country. But these drinks may not be all they are blended up to be. On NBC’s “Today” show, contributor and Los Angeles Times columnist Phil Lempert shares some nutritional and safety advice to prepare you for your next visit to the juice bar. Read his tips below.

Coldbuster, Jamba Powerboost, Pro Arobek® Plus, Dr. Robeks®, Hangover Over , or Healthy Healer are all brand names you might expect to see in a homeopathic pharmacy or health food store. They conjure up improved health and for some, the cure-all or fountain of youth. In fact they are just a few of the hundreds of different names that juice bars are giving their nutrition supplement enhanced beverages. It’s great marketing and no doubt increases brand loyalty and drives sales. However, unlike a pharmacy, no information is available beyond what is printed on the ingredient label of these nutritionally fortified drinks.

And for consumers that have a medical condition, are taking medications, or just combine the wrong supplements — the lack of disclosure may mean trouble. Just who is going there and buying these fortified drinks? Aging baby boomers that want to stay young, fitness buffs who want to get the most out of their nutritional intake and exercise, dieters who want to make sure they get a well balance of protein and nutrients as they cut their caloric intake and families who just want to get a cool and ‘healthy’ nutritious drink.

Juice bars are supplying a very real nutritional need. The average American today consumes less than three servings a day of fruit and vegetables, well short of the minimum five servings recommended by the USDA Nutrition Guidelines. If preparing fruits and vegetables for our meals is too much trouble for many of us, isn’t it easier to just mix them up and drink them? The answer seems to be yes.

According to Kirk Perron, Chairman of Jamba Juice, about 98 percent of people who are served at Jamba, order their beverage with at least one supplement, (all smoothies at Jamba include on free “boost”) and additional supplements can be added for 50 cents each. The favorite? Vita Juice Boost, which contains 20 different vitamins and minerals and is described as “100 percent DV of 20 vital vitamins & minerals for total health”.

The FDA has not yet developed regulations or provided guidance to companies on the type of consumer and safety information that should be included on the labels of nutritional supplements. That is a major reason for the confusion and lack of information, but it is no excuse.

This past July, the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) issued their long-awaited report titled, “Improvements Needed in Overseeing the Safety of

Dietary Supplements and ‘Functional Foods’”. This report was prepared in response to the rapidly expanding consumer demand for these supplement products, coupled with a series of complaints (numbering 2,797 since 1993 — including 105 deaths) about the adverse effects of some dietary supplements. The FDA describes nutritional supplements as products that “claim to have health benefits beyond basic nutrition” and nutraceuticals (as a smoothie with supplement would be defined), as products that “have the basic attributes of traditional foods — taste, aroma, or nutritive value — and that claim to provide an additional health benefit.

According to the GAO, last year Americans spent about $31 billion on these types of products. Consumers, unfortunately, must take the responsibility to check out the supplements before they add them to their drinks. Some that are available, when added together, like calcium and magnesium, can counteract each other’s benefits. Others like Echinacea (the top selling herb in the U.S.) and St. John’s Wort, may counteract the effect of certain life saving drugs (Click here for a list of some of the most common nutritional supplements and their risks.) In the ten years that Jamba has been in business, Kirk Perron said he has never gotten one such information request, but he is quick to add that if consumers started asking for the information they would have it available. He wants to help educate his customers and make sure they are getting the best possible nutrition and information. It’s time we ask!

Understanding nutritional supplements and their effects, is not an issue limited to just juice bars, but is a need also in supermarkets, health food stores, local ice cream parlors, mail order catalogs and the Internet, and as supplements become more popular, this information must be available. Quality training of employees who ‘dispense’ these products is also necessary. As aging boomers, who started turning 50 a couple of years ago, begin taking more medically supervised medications for heart disease, diabetes, cancers, obesity and depression, we can also anticipate more potential interaction problems. With no systematic evaluation of products marketed as dietary supplements, the FDA must establish a program that will inform consumers of potentially life threatening adverse reactions; just as there currently exists for drugs.

All retailers who sell nutritional supplements, or the products that contain them, should immediately provide in each store a complete list of ingredients and precautions. At the same time, they should be cautioning their employees not to ‘play doctor or nutritionist’ and diagnose customers’ conditions or imply that a dietary supplement will be a cure or replace conventional medical therapy.

An excellent source of information can be your pharmacist, who has a complete resource of drug and supplement interactions available. Web sites like those of the FDA, www.fda.gov, USDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, www.usda.gov, National Institutes of Health, www.nih.gov, and resource guides like The Natural Pharmacy and Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements are also good sources for more information.

There is no doubt that in the near future, nutritional supplements will play a big role in our everyday diets — in both foods and in beverages. As the National Institutes of Health continues to fully explore the scientific study of their benefits and value in preventing chronic diseases, we can expect more and better quality information. Until that time, read those ingredient labels carefully, always check for food or drug interactions and be sure to ask retailers to have the information available.


Phil Lempert, the Supermarket Guru®, analyzes the food marketing industry to keep consumers up-to-date about cutting-edge marketing trends. He is a regular “Today” show contributor, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and host of Shopping Smart of the WOR Radio Network. For more food and health information, you can check out Phil’s Web site at: www.supermarketguru.com.