Is fruit juice a health food?


Today in Australia, there’s a big outcry on the news, as fruit juices have officially lost their 5 star health rating.


Here in Australia, we have a “health star” rating on packaged foods. The more stars a food has, the more healthy it’s deemed to be.


Fruit juice has rated 5 stars as a health food … until today.  It’s now dubbed to be as “unhealthy” as soft drink under the new rating system.


How can a glass of fruit juice be as bad for you as a can of Coke?


Let’s dive into fruit juice’s fall from grace, and why that daily glass of OJ may be harming – rather than helping – your weight loss goals and your health in general.


Spilling the tea … or, you know … the juice


(*Puts on my news anchor voice*)


There’s outrage amongst farmers today as fruit juice, which has always enjoyed a 5/5 health star rating, has today been knocked back to less health stars than a can of Diet Coke.


And this is because fruit juice is … well … just not that great for you nutritionally.


I mean, yeah, it’s got some nutritional value, especially if your constitution is strong enough to handle a bit of pulp in your drink.


But most commercially prepared juices are just straight up sugar, with a bit of added vitamin C.


In the juicing process, all the fibre, satiating bulk and much of the nutrients get removed and only the sweet juiciness remains.


The polyphenols, antioxidants, and other nutrients are often contained in the pith (the fleshy bit between the skin and the “meat”(???)) of the fruit, which gets removed in the juicing process.


Furthermore, what antioxidants and enzymes remain only have a very short lifespan, which often doesn’t survive the industrial production process in creating commercial juice … sooooo … yeah, basically you’re just left with fruit-flavoured sugar water.


In the grand scheme of things, it’s a good thing that fruit juice is getting exposed for the health food lie that it is. And I’ll explain why.


So, it’s a bit of sugar, big deal


Well yeah, except that sugar is rotting teeth, increasing the risk of diabetes, and contributing to obesity, because it gets packed liberally in lunch boxes and drunk daily by well meaning people who think they’re doing something good for their health.


I’m partial to a tall glass of pineapple juice personally, but I don’t drink it as a health food. It’s an occasional sweet snack treat, usually in some form of mocktail.


As I talked about in my post on nutrition labels, I’m all for food freedom and eating what you damn well want. I’m not demonizing juice at all – I love juice.


But if people want to make healthy choices, they shouldn’t be misled.


This decision gives people more power to make educated choices about what they’re consuming.  They can feel confident that when they buy something with a 5 star health rating, it will be incredibly nutritious and good for them.


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Just how unhealthy is fruit juice, really?


Okay, let’s take a beautiful, sweet, ripe apple.


One apple is 52 calories – that’s nothing, about 2.6% of the average adult’s daily recommended calorie intake.


There are 14 g of carbohydrate in one apple.  Of those 14 g of carbohydrate, 2.4 g is fibre, and 10 g are sugar.


However, also contained in that apple are nutrients like potassium, vitamin K, vitamin C, and magnesium.


Okay, so we’re down with apples now? Let’s look at a glass of apple juice.


First of all, it takes up to four apples to make a single glass of apple juice.  That’s several times the calories, carbs, and sugar.


Let’s take a 250 ml glass of commercial 100% apple juice (with no added sugar) for example. It has 129 calories and 31.5 g of carbs (about the same amount as two slices of bread).


ALL 31.5 g of those carbs is sugar, and zero fibre.


A can of Coca Cola comes in at 108 calories per 250 ml, and 26.5 g of carbs and sugar.


is fruit juice a health food


It may seem like apple juice is the clear winner, because it has fruit, but nutritionally they’re about the same. In fact, if we’re talking straight calories and sugar, volume for volume, Coke is even marginally better.


(And if it’s not 100% fruit juice, it has the same salt, flavoring, colours, and corn syrup as Coke has anyway.)


It’s true that if you get 100% cloudy apple juice, it has negligible added fibre, and vitamin C.  However, it comes at the expense of a LOT of added sugars.


There are far healthier ways to get those same benefits.  Like, I don’t know, just eating an apple.


The verdict? You’d get far more benefit and satisfaction by eating a small apple with a side of water.


Why it’s healthier to eat the whole fruit instead of juice


See, if you ate a whole apple, all that fibre and bulk would slow digestion and absorption of the nutrients, making a rapid blood sugar spike less likely.


But when you just send a straight glass of apple juice, that concentrated sugar hits your blood stream fast, causing a rapid blood sugar spike.


The short term effects of rapid blood sugar spikes make you tired and hungry.  Now, that’s one thing, but big blood sugar peaks and troughs over time increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.


Also? The concentrated sugar and acid in fruit juice does a number on your teeth – definitely as bad for you as soft drink in that respect.


And finally – when you eat an apple, what happens? You fill your belly with bulk , which satisfies you and helps you feel full.


When you drink a glass of apple juice, guess what? You’re still hungry.


Personally, I’d rather save those calories and sugar for ordering a hot fudge sundae on date night like a carefree little minx.




All this to say – if you really enjoy a glass of OJ, have at it! Just don’t drink it because you think you should for the health benefits, or because it seems “healthier” than soft drink.


Rule of thumb that will never steer you wrong? The healthiest choice is usually the whole food as close to its natural form as possible.


You’re WAY better off, health wise, to eat one whole piece of fruit and quench your thirst with water than drinking fruit juice (OR soft drink, for that matter).


What do you guys think? Do you think fruit juice deserved to lose its 5 star health rating? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

is fruit juice a health food

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