Members of an expert panel have told the Department of Health to reject calls for fruit juice to be excluded from its official 5 a day logo, after two government reports showed no link with heart disease - and a string of benefits to vitamin and mineral intakes.

Fruit juice has been under threat for inclusion in 5 a day since Public Health England said it would reconsider its guidance in the wake of last summer’s SACN report on carbohydrates, which raised concern over high sugar products.

But last week a ‘rapid review’ report commissioned by PHE to establish any link with cardiovascular harm since juice was adopted under the logo, claimed fruit juice had been shown in several studies to improve conditions such as high blood pressure. A second report, also by PHE based on National Diet and Nutrition Survey findings, showed fruit juice was a major contributor of vitamin C and potassium intake, especially among teenage children.

The rapid review looked at two prospective cohort studies from the US and 13 randomised controlled trials to try to identify any relationship between fruit juice intake and cardiovascular disease and related conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Increased fruit juice intake was associated with a “significant decrease in the incidence of hypertension”, according to one of the biggest studies, of 2,774 adults.

Three RCTs found drinking fruit juice (pomegranate, orange juice and grape) lowered blood pressure and two reported benefits on blood lipids levels.

While only a few studies had shown benefits to heart health, none had shown any harm, the report found. However, it acknowledged all the trials that showed a positive effect involved consuming more than the recommended 150ml per day.

The second report showed fruit juice was a major source of vitamin C intake. It was the single biggest provider of vitamin C for teenage children, even higher than fruit itself.

“The research reiterates the fact 150ml is perfectly safe and something they can easily do to contribute to their 5 a day,” said one member of the PHE external expert group. Another member added: “These findings are highlighting the reason why fruit juice was included in 5 a day in the first place.”

However, health campaigners reiterated their calls for the government to take juice out of the guidance.

“We are particularly concerned the message of limiting intake to 150ml per day does not come across,” said Kawther Hashem, a nutritionist for Action on Sugar, “and that consumers, particularly children, are drinking far more than that.” In November it produced research showing more than a quarter of fruit juices, drinks and smoothies aimed at children contained as much sugar as Coca-Cola, and some considerably more. A PHE spokeswoman said: “The group’s advice to PHE is currently being finalised and once this is submitted to us we will then liaise with government health departments to discuss a way forward.”

“Any extension to the logo to include composite foods would require ministerial agreement.”

… as peanut lobby hungers for 5 a day green light

nuts should form part of the revamped 5 a day guidance, the Department of Health has been urged.

A joint submission by the American Peanut Council, the British Peanut Council and Combined Edible Nut Trade Association called on Public Health England to take account of studies showing their role in replacing satfats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats to achieve lower levels of so-called “bad” cholesterol.

It also pointed out that youngsters were already encouraged to swap crisps for nuts as part of the Change 4 Life campaign.

“Nuts are affordable, nutrient-dense foods to help the public make simple choices to improve their compliance with the recommendation to consume more fruit and vegetables,” the bodies said in a letter to PHE.

A Public Health England spokesman said: “The external reference group for 5 a day has been established to provide advice on potentially extending the current government logo and portion indicator to include composite foods. Nuts have not been included in these discussions.”