The Right Cup

Are Fruit Juices Better Than Sugary Drinks?

Many people think that fruit juices are a healthy choice. This is no wonder, given that the word “fruit” has the connotation of being healthy.

What a lot of people do not realise is that fruit juice is also loaded with sugar. In fact, fruit juices contain the same amount of sugar and calories as a sugary soft drink and sometimes even more.

The minuscule amounts of vitamins and antioxidants in juice do not make up for the large amount of sugar.

Fruit Juices Are Not Always What You Think

Unfortunately, the food and beverage industry is not always straightforward about how their products are actually manufactured. If you buy a fruit juice in the supermarket it might not be as fresh and unprocessed as you think, even if it’s labelled as "100% pure" and "not from concentrate."

Freshly squeezed juice needs to be pasteurized first. To keep it sterile, it should be filled while still hot. If the packaging can not withstand high temperatures (e.g. plastic juice boxes) the juice must be filled in a sterile environment. Instead of heat, hydrogen peroxide or another approved sterilizing agent may be used prior to filling.

Furthermore, preservatives such as sulfur dioxide or sodium benzoate are allowed by federal regulation. The same applies for ascorbic acid, alpha tocopherol, EDTA, BHA, or BHT which are used as antioxidants.

Another common way to prolong shelf life is a process which removes all the oxygen from the juice. Without oxygen the juice won’t go bad so it can be stored up to a whole year before being packaged.

The problem is, that this process also removes all taste and smell from the juice, so “flavor packs” need to be added. These packs are manufactured and sold to juice companies to match a distinctive flavor the brand wants to create and then mix back into the juice.

It can still be labelled as 100% pure because those “flavor packs” are made from orange by-products and although they are chemically altered to the extent that they are hardly by-products anymore they are still originated from oranges.

So whatever juices you're buying from the supermarket shelves, they are nowhere close to freshly squeezed juices. Some might even just be sugar water with a bit of fruit flavor.

Fruit Juices Are Loaded With Sugar

Although fruit juices contain vitamins, like Vitamins C, A, B1 or folate as well as potassium or antioxidants, they lack crucial parts that make fruits good for you.

The amount of nutrients and vitamins found in juices are significantly lower than in whole fruits and vegetables. Instead, fruit juices are loaded with sugar.

If you take a look at the comparison for a 12 ounce (350 ml) portion of Coca Cola and apple juice:

  • Coca Cola: 140 calories and 40 grams of sugar (10 teaspoons).
  • Apple juice: 165 calories and 39 grams of sugar (9.8 teaspoons).

This simple comparison shows why fruit juices are  just as unhealthy as sugary soda drinks. Most types of fruit juices contain a similar amount of sugar as a sugar-sweetened beverage, sometimes with even more total calories!

It’s Easier To Consume Big Amounts Of Sugar And Calories From Fruit Juice

One of the differences between eating whole fruits opposed to drinking fruit juice is that the whole fruits contain fiber which helps with digestion and makes you full.

One glass of orange juice equals 3 whole oranges. Eating a whole fruit takes significant effort to chew and swallow. While eating 3 oranges will likely make you full, one glass of juice will not make you feel satiated at all.

The sugar in them is also bound within fibrous structures that break down slowly during digestion. Therefore, the sugar in whole fruits gets sent to the liver more slowly and in smaller amounts. The liver can easily metabolize these small amounts without being overloaded.

When you drink fruit juice though, the large amount of sugar gets absorbed and sent to the liver very quickly, just like when you drink a sugar-sweetened beverage.

Although healthy people are unlikely to suffer from any health problems caused by fruit juice (or soda) if consumed in small amounts, this can become a big issue for overweight people or people with diet-related metabolic problems.

Studies have shown that liquid sugar can cause insulin resistance, raise triglycerides, dense LDL cholesterol, elevate oxidized LDL cholesterol and cause belly fat accumulation in only 10 weeks.

Although most studies are using sugar-sweetened or fructose-sweetened drinks, it can be assumed that fruit juice will have the same effect.

There are some studies though, that actually did use fruit juice. In one of them, 480 ml (16 ounces) of grape juice per day for 3 months caused insulin resistance and increased waist circumference in overweight individuals.

In another study showed that 2 or more servings of fruit juice per day was associated with more than a doubled risk of gout in women.

Liquid Calories Are Uniquely Fattening

Not all calories are metabolised in the same way. Different foods go through different metabolic pathways and have different effects on hunger, hormones and the brain centers that control body weight.

The brain is in charge of regulating energy balance. When we eat more of one thing, our brains will make us eat less of other foods instead so our total calorie intake wouldn't increase much, if at all.

But unfortunately liquid calories don't work the same way as calories from solid foods. High calorie drinks like sodas or apple juice are not compensated by eating less of other foods instead.

For this reason, drinks high in sugar and calories are one of the biggest causes for weight gain. Drinking them doesn’t satiate us, so their calories are just added to the calories we are eating anyway.

A study showed that the risk of obesity in children increased by 60% for each daily serving of sugar-sweetened drinks.

Other studies have shown while eating whole fruit is linked to a decreased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, consuming fruit juice increasing it.

Eat Whole Fruits And Skip The Juice

In nutrition guidelines fruit juices often count towards the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. We’ve seen now that this should be revised because it makes people think that fruit juices are actually as healthy as whole fruits.

Most people already exceed the recommended daily intake of sugar as is. Therefore, reducing the sugar intake should be more important than getting small amounts of nutrients some juices provide.

Instead of as juice, fruits should be consumed as whole. So you can also benefit from the natural fibers, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals found in them.

Overall, drinking fruit juice in small amounts can be okay for some people, but despite the health halo it should be treated the same way as sugary sodas: as a once in awhile treat.