Why fruit juice isn't as healthy as you might think - ABC Everyday

Last updated: 02-26-2021

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Why fruit juice isn't as healthy as you might think - ABC Everyday

Whether it's a popper in your kid's lunchbox, OJ at breakfast or blitzing a smoothie before you walk out the door, fruit juices are an easy way to pack more fruit into our days.

And when roughly half of us don't eat enough fruit, drinking juice might seem like a quick fix.

Except juice is not the healthy choice it's made out to be.

"Consumers think of juice as a healthy alternative to soft drinks, but even 100 per cent fresh fruit juices contain a large amount of sugar that's inconsistent with a healthy diet," says Alexandra Jones, a food policy researcher at The George Institute of Global Health.

If fruit juice is made from fruit, surely it contains the same goodness as whole fruit, right?

Juicing extracts the sweet, sweet juice from fresh produce so fruit juices do contain most of the vitamins, minerals and good phytochemicals found in whole fruits.

But however your juice comes — cold-pressed, freshly squeezed, "nothing but" juice — juicing fruit strips out the fibre. And it's the fibre which is good for gut health and has a host of other health benefits, too.

A red delicious apple, for example, has around 10 times more fibre than apple juice, says Carly Moores, a registered nutritionist at the University of Adelaide.

Fibre also makes you feel full, which means drinking sans-fibre fruit juices, no matter how thirst-quenching, is justless satisfying than eating fruit.

"This means that it is quite easy to consume a large amount of juice [and sugars] in one go without feeling very full, so they are often a significant source of energy," says Dr Moores.

Even if fruit juices contain some pulp, they are still lower in fibre and less beneficial than eating whole fruits, she adds.

Juicing fruit releases simple sugars naturally found in fruit, such as fructose.

Normally, in whole fruit, these sugars are stored inside the plant's cells, so it takes our bodies longer to digest them.

"It's when fruits are juiced that the natural sugars within fruit become 'free' sugars," says Dr Moores.

In juice form, these free sugars, which are also found in honey, syrups and added to processed foods, give our bodies a quick sugar hit and carry with them the risks of tooth decay and unhealthy weight gain.

Drinking fruit juice has also been linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

So even though fruit juices might be labelled "no added sugar", just know they contain plenty of free sugars which could be harmful to your health if downed in greater amounts than recommended.

Drinking juice is a fast way to add a whole heap of extra calories to your daily diet, says Dr Jones.

"You would never eat eight oranges in one sitting but it's actually very easy to consume them if you drink them in liquid form," she says.

The recommended serving size for juice is only half a cup (125ml) — so just a few mouthfuls at most — which you should drink only occasionally, and not every day, according to dietary guidelines.

But fruit juices often come packaged in much larger containers. Even the small pop-top style juice bottles popular with kids are usually 250ml, so that's two servings in one bottle.

Blending whole fruit for smoothies does mean these drinks contain fibre.

Milk-based smoothies also have the added nutritional benefits of protein and calcium from the milk.

However, store-bought smoothies are typically served in overly large portion sizes, Dr Moores says.

"Like juicing, blending fruit in smoothies also releases the fruit sugars and so smoothies contribute to free sugar intake," she adds.

It's not just nutritionists who are concerned about sugary fruit juices; dentists are too.

Matt Hopcraft is a dental public health expert and CEO of the Australian Dental Association's Victorian branch and he says fruit juice can be problematic for oral health for a couple of reasons.

Fruit juices, especially citrus juices such as orange juice, are highly acidic and drinking them too often can lead to dental erosion.

"Over time, the acid can completely erode through the enamel and expose the underlying dentine, causing extreme sensitivity," Dr Hopcraft says.

The sugars in fruit juices also feed the bacteria in our mouth and on our teeth.

"The bacteria in plaque convert these sugars into acid that attack the tooth enamel and can eventually lead to a cavity," Dr Hopcraft says.

Not all juices are made the same, and some are more sugary than others.

Juices are also up against a whole range of new drink options, such as kombucha, which have appeared in response to consumer desire for drinks with less sugar in them, Dr Jones says.

Looking atthe health star ratings on drinks and food products is one way to compare what's on offer — but only between the same types of products.

The front-of-pack health-star labels are designed to guide consumers to healthier choices, but the rating system is only voluntary so not all products have them, Dr Jones says.

Recent updates to the health star scoring system mean some fruit juices might score four stars where others only get three because of their sugar content, Dr Jones says. Higher star ratings point consumers towards drinks that are lower in sugar.

Juices containing veggies can have less sugar, giving them extra points, but watch out for the added salt often found in tomato juice.

And when you're scanning supermarket shelves, be careful not to confuse fruit drinks with fruit juices, says Dr Moores.

"Fruit drinks are usually reconstituted fruit juice concentrates which are mixed with water, often with sugar added."

Instead of reaching for juice, swap to whole fruits — at breakfast and morning tea — and drink water, Dr Moores says.

Drinking juice with food and drinking water after eating can help protect teeth from dental erosion by flushing out acidic, sugary liquids, Professor Hopcraft says.

"If you do choose to have juice," Dr Moores says, "try to stick to small amounts as recommended and consume less frequently if you can."

Clare Watson is a freelance science journalist based in Wollongong whose work has appeared in Nature News, Undark, The Guardian, and Australian Geographic, and aired on ABC Radio National.


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