Dear Lifehacker, My friend keeps telling me to stop drinking fruit juice because "it's basically just sugar". She also claims it's just as bad as Coca-Cola. I've done some online research but can't find a definitive answer on this. Surely juice is healthier than sugary colas? Or do I really need to quit? (I mainly drink bottled '100%' apple juice and OJ.) Thanks, Ms Juicy
Your friend is right, but only partly. Most fruits are chock-full of natural sugars which are good for you in small doses. However, like all sugar-based foods, they start to become problematic if you consume more than the recommended daily amount.
This problem is compounded in fruit juices, which tend to have a higher concentration of sugar compared to whole fruits. Many juice brands also add additional sugar or synthetic sweeteners to enhance the flavour. Juices also lose most of those healthy fibres during the liquefying process.
Tellingly, most reputable health bodies advise parents not to give children under the age of seven more than one cup of juice per day. Infants 12 months and under are not supposed to drink juice at all.
The NSW Centre For Public Health actually lumps soft drinks and fruit juice together under the term "sugary drinks". In its 2009 health review, the organisation offered the following findings and recommendations in regards to juice:
The energy content of fruit juice is similar to sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks and may contribute to excess energy intake if consumed in large amounts. The evidence for the erosive potential on teeth of fruit juices was considered to be “probable”, as it was for sugar-sweetened drinks in the 2003 report on Diet, Nutrition and Chronic Disease (Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation 2003.)
It is generally recommended that fruit juice consumption be restricted to one small glass per day as an excessive juice intake can contribute significant calories and may result in substitution for fresh fruit which contains fibre plus a number of beneficial phytochemicals not present in the juice of fruits.
Clearly, the benefits of juice products do not outweigh the cons.
So does this mean fruit juice is as bad for you as Coke? No, not really. While it's true that some fruit juices contain as much sugar as soft drink (if not more so), they also contain protein, fat and some fiber, whereas soft drink is just sugar and potentially dubious chemicals. Nether of them are especially good for you, but at least fruit juice has some nutritional value.
If you're addicted to juice, you're better off pulping your own from whole fruits and maybe adding veggies into the mix. It won't taste quite as polished as the store-bought stuff, but you will get more nutrition for your troubles. (Alternatively, eat your fruits whole and start juicing your vegetables!)
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A recent article published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that Australian and European soft drinks contained higher concentrations of glucose, and less fructose, than soft drinks in the United States. The total glucose concentration of Australian soft drinks was on average 22% higher than in US formulations.
We know too much sugar is bad for us, but do different sugars have different health effects? Let's take a look at the science.