NEW ORLEANS — Whether you shop for tasty fruit juices or fizzy sodas at your local grocery store, a new study is sounding the alarm about what’s inside these popular beverages. Researchers from Tulane University have discovered various toxic metals in these drinks, including arsenic, cadmium, and lead. Moreover, five of the 60 beverages scientists tested contained levels of toxic metals which are above the federal standards for drinking water.
Specifically, two mixed juices contained levels of arsenic above the government limit of 10 micrograms per liter. One cranberry juice, a mixed carrot and fruit juice, and one oat milk product had cadmium levels which exceed the federal standard of three parts per billion.
Although the team did not single out specific brands, they did note that each beverage tested is commonly found in grocery stores, including single and mixed fruit juices, plant-based milks, sodas, and teas. Study authors measured 25 different toxic metals and trace elements of harmful compounds in these drinks. Overall, mixed fruit juices and plant-based milks (including oat and almond milk) contained higher levels of toxic metals than other drinks in the study.
Researchers discovered that levels of nickel, manganese, boron, cadmium, strontium, arsenic, and selenium exceeded federal drinking water standards in some of these 60 drinks. Meanwhile, the team found detectable levels of lead in a staggering 93 percent of the beverages. Thankfully, most contained very low levels of lead, below 1 part per billion. However, one lime sports drink contained 6.3 micrograms/kg — the highest in the study, but still below the standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“It was surprising that there aren’t a lot of studies out there concerning toxic and essential elements in soft drinks in the United States,” says study lead author Tewodros Godebo, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. “This creates awareness that there needs to be more study.”
Do juice and soda drinkers need to worry?
Researchers note that consumers typically drink these beverages in smaller quantities than water, meaning that the health risks for adults is relatively low. However, Godebo advises parents to closely monitor what their children drink.
“People should avoid giving infants and young children mixed-fruit juices or plant-based milks at high volume,” Godebo recommends in a university release. “Arsenic, lead, and cadmium are known carcinogens and well established to cause internal organ damage and cognitive harm in children especially during early brain development.”
Why are these metals in your drinks?
The study authors note that their findings are not the result of some industrial problem at a manufacturing plant — it’s actually an issue with the soil many of these juices come from.
“These metals are naturally occurring so it’s hard to get rid of completely,” Godebo explains.
“I don’t think there needs to be fear,” adds Tulane University student and study author Hannah Stoner. “In toxicity, it’s the dosage that often makes the difference so everything in moderation. But this creates awareness that there needs to be more study.”
Godebo says the next step is to conduct a risk assessment based on their data to see if these low levels pose a threat to both children and adults.
“We are curious to keep exploring what’s in our drinks and foods commercially sold to the consumers,” Godebo concludes.
The findings are published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.