Michelle Obama's War on Cranberries

The First Lady is not making many friends in the cranberry industry.

Thanks to Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, the Department of Agriculture will soon create stricter guidelines for what can be sold in school vending machines and cafeterias. This could signal the end of young people drinking cranberry juice cocktail — and that's bad news for the cranberry industry.

Yes, cranberry juice cocktail. It's made with real fruit, sure, but it's also full of sugar. Cranberries are incredibly bitter and tart on their own, which is why they're usually mixed with an awful lot of sweetener. Despite the nutrition benefits, these sugary blends may not mesh with new guidelines.

Wisconsin cranberry grower Linda Prehn breaks it down for you.

Cranberries can be sweetened with anything. But you can't eat 'em raw. They're tough to eat straight up.

"Anything," you say? Prehn recommends apple juice. OK, so school vending machines might ditch the good stuff, but surely there's some sort of healthy cranberry juice alternative. (Sorry, Ocean Spray.)

After all, cranberries do a lot of good — they contain antioxidants (more than most other fruits) and can prevent urinary tract infections by promoting bladder and kidney health. The cranberry industry has sent appeals to Michelle Obama and to the Department of Agriculture, noting that the benefits of cranberries outweigh the risks of a little added sugar intake.

But the debate rages on. Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, believes that cranberry juice cocktails' sugar content are of the utmost concern.

There's some evidence to show that cranberry juice can prevent urinary tract infections, but that doesn't mean everyone should be drinking cranberry juice every day. Only 3 percent of kids a year have urinary tract infections, compared to one-third who are overweight. Urinary tract infection is not a booming epidemic. Obesity is.

Sure, parents could still buy cranberry juice for their kids outside of school, but the cranberry industry worries what kind of message these school policies send — after all, cranberry juice is being lumped together with soda and other "things we know are pretty bad for you." That could create an association between Coca-Cola and cranberry, which might dissuade adults from keeping their fridge stocked with Ocean Spray.

It's not just cranberry juice, by the way: according to this new initiative, all fruit juices must be 100 percent juice to stay in schools. Luckily, there are plenty of fruits that are sweet on their own — even if they don't prevent UTIs.

[Image via Flickr/halfchinese]