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, detox, green — 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 juices & bottled 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? 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 shocked. And yet, that’s exactly what you do nearly every time you reach for a fruit juice beverage.
Bottled fruit smoothies are sugar bombs
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 Blueberry Smoothie features an illustration that shows exactly how much fruit is in each bottle: 1 1/2 pomegranates, 23 blueberries, 1/2 apple, 34 red grapes and 34 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 1/2 pomegranates, 23 blueberries, 1/2 apple, 34 red grapes and 34 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.
High in Sugar, Low in Fiber
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 Blueberry smoothie, for instance, has ZERO grams of fiber versus a whopping 45 grams of fiber in the actual whole fruit. Whoa! Pass the fruit salad please …
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.
Sugar = Serious Medical Issues
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.
It’s well documented that greater consumption of fruit juices is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Fruit Juice & Children: Not a Healthy Combo
Think about what this means for the millions of children in this country that drink juices boxes and glasses of juice throughout the day with well-meaning adults believing the health hype. 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, 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.”
No, Juice is Not Full of Vitamin C
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? In fact, the detriment far outweighs any positives.
What To Drink Instead
What to drink instead? Water! If you’re thirsty drink water. Add some sliced fruit or cucumber. If you really want a juice, go for 100% (or very close to it) 100% vegetable juices (steer away from more sugary carrot and beet juices), unsweetened teas, and mineral water.
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” juice or smoothie. Walk on by the juice section and opt for something that does your body good.
I’d love to learn how this resonates with you – leave a comment with your insights, personal experiences or any key takeaways. I can’t wait to continue our conversation.
Looking for more nutrition information?
- Fitness Food Influence Use to Eat More & Exercise Less
- Food Marketing: Do You Buy Food at the Gas Station
- Heal Your Body with an Anti-Inflammatory Blueprint
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I’ve always worried about fruit juice drinks. I didn’t realize, though, how bad they are. I WILL get better about reading labels! Thanks for the reinforcement!
Melissa Rapoport says
Yes! Reading labels as force of habit is soooo key!
Carmen Bissell says
Amazing article and really blew my mind!!
Crazy to think how easy it is to pick up a ” healthy juice blend” and wrongly believe it’s good for us!
Melissa Rapoport says
Right? Marketers (with the help of celebrities sometimes) are great at creating health trends that just aren’t healthy! Thank you for your comment 🙂
Cheryl A Major says
Love your writing style Melissa. It’s no nonsense, practical and down to earth.
I come from the school of hard knocks and became healthier too. Depression was my constant companion for decades.
I look forward to reading more of your writing! Cheryl