You walk into your neighborhood market and want something cold to drink. The health-conscious you bypasses the soda section and heads to the healthier juice section. There are rows of them — orange, apple, grape — oh, and look, so many different smoothies loaded with blueberries, pomegranate, strawberries, protein, acai, pineapple, kiwi, and none of them have any added sugar. Perfect.
Stop right there! You might as well back up to the soda section and grab a good ‘ole Coca-Cola.
Why? Because fruit juices and most commercial fruit juice smoothies are no better for you than a can of soda. Yep, you heard correctly. They are absolutely loaded with sugar. In fact, they have as much sugar and, in many cases more sugar, than an equal serving of Coca-Cola.
Still scratching your head over this one? Take a look at this chart that compares Coca-Cola to popular fruit juices and the so-called “healthy” smoothies found in many markets. A 16-ounce serving of Coca-Cola has a hulking 13 1/2 teaspoons of sugar. Apple juice and orange juice have nearly the same amount. Grape juice has 20 teaspoons of sugar.
Stop and think about this. Imagine buying a cup of coffee, stepping to the service counter, and ripping open between 13 and 19 packets of sugar to pour into your coffee. If you saw someone do this you would be disgusted. And yet, that’s exactly what you do every time you reach for a fruit juice beverage.
The fruit smoothies are equally bad. On average you’re consuming 15 teaspoons of sugar with each 16-ounce bottle. The marketing of these beverages, however, makes you believe that they are actually good for you. The label of the Naked Pomegranate Acai Smoothie features an illustration that shows exactly how much fruit is in each bottle: 1 2/3 pomegranates, 95 Acai berries, 1 1/3 apples, 1/2 banana, 14 red grapes and 14 white grapes. All of this fruit at the price of nearly 16 teaspoons of sugar.
Here’s my question: What would happen if you actually sat down and ate 1 2/3 pomegranates, 95 Acai berries, 1 1/3 apples, 1/2 banana, 14 red grapes and 14 white grapes? It would certainly take a lot longer to consume all that fruit than it would to drink the smoothie, which would reduce the sugar “spike”. You would also feel full. That’s a heck of a lot of fruit to eat in one sitting.
From a nutritional standpoint juices also lose. As Robert Lustig, M.D., author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth about Sugar, explains, the biggest problem with juices is that they are stripped of fiber. Fiber reduces sugar absorption, making you feel fuller faster and it suppresses insulin. The Pomegranate Acai smoothie, for instance, has ZERO grams of fiber versus a whopping 45 grams of fiber in the actual whole fruit. Whoa! Make a giant fruit salad.
Fruit without fiber sets off a sugar bomb in your body.
In fact, the concentrated sugar in juice, stripped of all fiber, makes blood sugar levels and the corresponding insulin response soar. According to Lustig, when the fiber is removed the chemistry of the sugar changes. In a whole fruit the sugar is sucrose, which is 1/2 glucose and 1/2 fructose. However, once separated the sugar becomes 100% fructose, which is metabolized ONLY in the liver. Instead of providing energy, it generates fat, and becomes insulin-resistant.
What does this mean? There’s a host of medical issues, as described in Happy Healthy Long Life, a medical librarian’s adventures in evidence-based living, associated with consuming fructose (yes, juice!), including obesity, liver disfunction, hypertension, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, systemic inflammation, increased appetite, chronic fatigue, and sugar cravings. Just a couple of months ago researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health as reported in the Harvard Gazette found that greater consumption of fruit juices was associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Think about what this means for the millions of children in this country that drink juices boxes and glasses of juice throughout the day. From personal experience I can tell you that fruit juices are expounded as a healthful alternative to soda and milk. The amount of sugar children are drinking is alarming and perhaps the underlying contributor to the rise of obesity in this country.
In the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, for instance, as reported by Science Daily earlier this year, the regular consumption of sugary drinks — defined as one or more 8-ounce servings daily — was associated with higher body mass index scores in 4 and 5-year olds. An 8-ounce serving? That’s only one-half of the typical Tropicana orange juice container! Further, the study also found that “5-year olds who regularly had sugary drinks were more likely to be obese, and 2-year-olds who regularly drank sugar-sweetened beverages had larger increase in BMI over the following two years than 2-year-olds who had sugary drinks infrequently or not at all.”
Oh, I know, but they are all natural and full of vitamins. Yes, they are natural, and some have vitamins. However, many of the juices that meet the recommended daily allowance of particular vitamins, ADD the vitamins to the juice. For instance, the nutritional panel of Naked’s popular Mighty Mango Smoothie touts meeting 100% of the RDA of vitamin A, however it is added as Beta Carotene. The same juice only provides 10% of the RDA of vitamin C. If you ate the actual whole fruit listed on the label, however, you would consume 156% of the RDA of vitamin C.
There really is no argument for drinking fruit juice. Taste? Convenience? Not worth the havoc. In fact, the detriment far outweighs any positives. Some of my favorites? I nearly always reach for water, because chances are I’m actually thirsty. But, when I want something with flavor I opt for 100% vegetable juices (although I tend to steer away from more sugary carrot and beet juices), unsweetened teas, and sparkling water with a bit of fruit flavoring (check the label!). And, by the way, all the electrolyte replacement drinks and vitamin waters? Most of them contain even MORE sugar than soda or fruit juice. Check your labels carefully.
So, next time you walk into the corner market to pick up something to drink, don’t be fooled by the pretty packaging and the marketing allure of a “natural, vitamin-ladden” fruit juice. Walk on by the juice section and opt for something that does your body good.
Happy Healthy Long Life: A Medical Librarian’s Adventures in Evidence-Based Living. Dr. Robert H Lustig and the Bitter Truth About Sugar — It’s the Driving Force Behind Type-2 Diabetes, Hypertension, Small Dense LDL Cholesterol and the List Goes On. What’s the Cure? March 3, 2011. happyhealthylonglife.com/happy_healthy_long_life/2011/03/sugar.html
Lustig, Robert, M.D. Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar. Hudson Street Press. January 2013.
Obesity More Likely in Preschoolers Drinking Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. Science Daily. Aug. 5, 2013. sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130805112854.htm
Roeder, Amy. Skip the juice, go for whole fruit. Harvard Gazette. August 29, 2013. news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/08/reduce-type-2-diabetes-risk/