Is Juice Really Better for You Than Soda?


Many dietitians suggest skipping fruit juice altogether and eating whole fruit instead. Richard Drury/Getty Images

Despite legal challenges from the beverage industry, it seems that soda taxes are here to stay, for now anyway.On July 18, 2018, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court upheld Philadelphia's tax on soda, rejecting a challenge to the law. Eight other U.S. cities tax sugary sodas, as do a handful of other countries, including the U.K., South Africa and the Philippines. With obesity still at an epidemic level in the United States — nearly 40 percent of Americans were obese in 2016 — health advocates praise soda taxes like Philadelphia's as a way to prioritize health over profits.

But soda's not the only culprit to blame for weight epidemic in the U.S., though it's certainly getting a bulk of the blame, especially when it comes to drinks. What's not getting attention? Fruit juice, and many of our favorites have a lot of added sugar. Case in point: The average 7.5-ounce (221 milliliter) can of Coca-Cola has 25 grams of sugar — that's more than 6 teaspoons. An 8-ounce (236 milliliter) glass of orange juice has about 21 grams, or 5 teaspoons of sugar; apple juice has about 24 grams — that's 6 teaspoons of sugar. And 100 percent juice, no sugar added cranberry juice has 28 grams of natural sugar — almost 7 teaspoons — in part due to added grape juice, apple juice and pear juice. Meanwhile, the American Heart Association recommends women get no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day; men just 36 grams.

"I wouldn't say juice is just as bad as soda, but I tell my clients to stop drinking juice," Mascha Davis, a Registered Dietitian at Nomadista Nutrition in Los Angeles and a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says. "It totally has a health halo, but it's an undeserved health halo. A lot of people drink juice because they think it's healthy."

Juice Over Time

We can point to marketing and innovation for that health halo so many people in the U.S. believe in when it comes to juice. One hundred years ago, few people drank orange juice for breakfast. Before then, fruit juice was mostly preserved, either by adding a lot of sugar and cooking it (and later used in baking and cooking), or by turning it into alcoholic drinks, like wine, brandy, hard cider and perry (which is like cider, but made with pears).

But in the early 20th century, developments in mass production, the invention of commercial juicing machines, refrigerated transportation and the discovery of vitamins offered more opportunities to sell juice and change American habits. In 1907, citrus growers in California organized as the California Fruit Growers Exchange.

In the 1920s, the California Fruit Growers Exchange used the name Sunkist and started an ambitious national marketing campaign that included more than 100 million flyers. The marketing emphasized the vitamin C in citrus juices as a "health-giving vitamin" and recommended a glass of juice daily. The message caught on. Nutritionists and health advocates also started promoting juice. The Pacific Coast Shredded Wheat Co. used a cereal ad in the '20s that said, "for that acid stomach, cut down the daily ration of starchy foods. Drink a glass of water on arising, then a glass of orange juice just before breakfast."

In the 1930s, commercial businesses started selling frozen orange juice, and in the '40s, the first concentrated frozen orange juice in the nation went to market — Minute Maid. Between the 1920s and 1950s, juice sales increased 300 percent.

Mixed Messaging

The health halo created a hundred years ago shines just as blindingly now as ever — and companies have found more ways to keep that halo glowing, fortifying juice with calcium, vitamin D, Omega-3 and probiotics. It's not that juice doesn't naturally have vitamins, even when it's not fortified — but the health messages often outshine the aspects of juice that aren't as good for us.

Juicing fruit throws off the balance of the package that whole fruit provides. Its sugars hit your bloodstream fast, like a soda. "The big thing I tell clients is to view juice as your dessert," said Davis says. "It shifts your mindset about what it's doing to your body. I think there's room for everything in a healthy diet. But instead of drinking it every day, drink it on few occasions, like a dessert."

Eat Your Fruit Instead

Whole fruit, says Davis, gives you fiber and is more filling than juice. "[Fruit juice] spikes your blood sugar level, it doesn't have tons of healthy stuff in it, and you can get all the same nutrients from eating the whole fruit," she explains. As for other nutrients, including those that juices are now fortified with, such as calcium and Omega-3, Davis suggests getting those from other sources, particularly whole foods. "There are much healthier ways to get the vitamins without the sugar spike," she says.

If you enjoy fruit-flavored drinks, try still water infused with fruit, or sparkling water with a little fresh juice squeezed into it; just make sure there are no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Vegetable juices and smoothies are also ways to drink your produce. "Smoothies can be great if they're made correctly, but they can also be sugar bombs," Davis says. She advises making smoothies with whole fruit and vegetables, and without adding fruit juice.

And for your morning routine, her prescription is to replace the morning glass of OJ with an orange and a glass of water.


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