Written by Nyomi Graef
Some people might think that it’s fine to replace fresh fruit with 100 per cent fruit juice from the supermarket. Why? Both have fruit in them. Both claim to be all natural. And both apparently have no added sugar. But 100 per cent fruit juice and fresh fruit are not the same. Fruit juice contains many calories, and a similar amount of sugar as soft drink. Most Australians and people in USA, among other nationalities, consume too much sugar. A high-sugar diet increases the risk of obesity, inflammation, type 2 diabetes and other health problems. Also, shop-bought fruit juice is often highly processed, and it usually contains little or no fibre. But fresh whole fruit is a “real” unprocessed food with fibre and other vital nutrients that fruit juice can lack. So for good health, eat mostly fresh whole fruit as our source of fruit.
How does fruit juice and whole fruit affect our blood sugar levels?
Fruit juice causes our blood sugar level to rise quickly and then fall quickly. Over time, too many sharp highs and lows in our blood sugar levels increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Why? The pancreas stops working well because it gets over stressed having to produce so much of the hormone insulin to deal with the sugar. Insulin resistance results. The body makes more and more insulin, but the body's cells don't respond to insulin properly, leading to type 2 diabetes.
Whole fruit contains dietary fibre. Many fruit juices contain little, if any, fibre. Fibre slows down the absorption of fruit sugar into the bloodstream (among many other health benefits). This means that the highs and lows in blood sugar levels from eating whole fruit are less sharp than when drinking fruit juice, so eating whole fruit is better for balancing blood sugar. Both fibre and having balanced blood sugar levels are important for people of every shape and size, people with and without diabetes, and for those wanting to lose excess weight.
What about the calories in fruit juice? It’s quick and easy to drink large amounts of fruit juice, so end up consuming lots of fruit sugar and calories over a short space of time. If people do this too often, they increase the risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes and other health problems. But consuming the same number of calories from whole fresh fruit can take more time, and it’s more difficult. For example, two cups of 100 per cent orange juice is made from the juice of about five oranges (depending on the type of orange, fruit juicer and so on). Many of us could quickly and easily drink this amount of juice. But who can eat five whole oranges in one sitting? The fibre in whole fruit, and the need to chew whole fruit, makes consuming too much fruit sugar (and too many calories from this sugar) more difficult.
On a side note about sugar in fruit juice, beware: even though fruit juice packets might claim there is no added sugar in the juice, this might not always be the case. When I was at a lecture at university, my class was told that 100 per cent no added sugar fruit juice can contain some added sugar to account for the seasonal variation of fruit.
“Real” food vs processed food
Fresh fruit is a “real” unprocessed food. Many fruit juices are heated to prolong their shelf life, otherwise they would go stale quickly like freshly squeezed fruit juice does. Examples of heat-treated fruit juices are UHT and pasteurised fruit juices from the supermarket. Heating destroys vital enzymes and other goodness in the juice, which we need for good health.
Check out the below examples of eye-opening articles about fruit juices. They describe how fruit juices can be unhealthy, artificial and over-processed.
Fruit Juice Is Just as Unhealthy as a Sugary Drink, published on Healthline
Why ‘100% Orange Juice’ is Still Artificial, by the Huffington Post
V8 Splash is ‘artificially-flavoured sugar-water labelled as if it were fruit juice,’ alleges lawsuit, says Food Navigator USA
How fruit juice went from health food to junk food, The Guardian reports
Do your own research into fruit juice and fruit drinks, if you’re interested. You might be surprised what you find on these topics.
How much fruit juice is good for us?
The Australian Government Department of Health recommends only occasionally drinking 125mL (half a cup) of no added sugar fruit juice. It says:
“Fruit juice should only be drunk occasionally as it is acidic and can increase the risk of dental erosion. Fruit juice also has less fibre and other healthy nutrients than the whole fruit provides.”
What about fruit drinks from the supermarket?
These are mostly water and sugar/artificial sweeteners, with some additives to, for instance, preserve and flavour the drinks. Many fruit drinks contain very little actual fruit juice. Avoid these drinks altogether. They are “lolly water”.
What are bad alternatives to fruit juice?
Avoid cordial, sports drinks, energy drinks, and artificially sweetened drinks. These can be bad for weight loss, might increase our appetite, rot our teeth, and more.
What are good alternatives to fruit juice?
For better health and easier weight loss, drink no more than half a cup (125mL) of no added sugar fruit juice a day. If you can, avoid fruit drink altogether.
Good alternatives to fruit juice include: