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Monday’s medical myth: fruit juice is healthier than soft drink

We often hear, from health experts and well-meaning parents, that soft drink is terribly unhealthy and we should opt for fruit juice instead. But apart from a few additional vitamins and minerals, there…

Fruit juice contains as much sugar as soft drink. Gail M Tang

We often hear, from health experts and well-meaning parents, that soft drink is terribly unhealthy and we should opt for fruit juice instead. But apart from a few additional vitamins and minerals, there isn’t much that differentiates fruit juice from soft drink: both beverages will give you the same sugar and calorie hit.

Before you start venting in the comments section below, let me make an important disclaimer: fruit juice does have a few redeeming health benefits that make it a little better than soft drink. Prune juice can alleviate constipation, cranberry juice helps reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and many juices contain micronutrients such as vitamin C and potassium.

But these nutrients are found in many other foods. And vitamin C and potassium deficiency are hardly public health issues in Australia.

One of the biggest assumptions about fruit juice is it must be healthy because it’s full of “natural sugars”. Fruit juice does contain natural sugar, which is a mix of fructose, sucrose and glucose, but the quantity (and kilojoules) is on par with soft drinks.

Kids who drink fruit juice are more likely to be overweight than kids who don’t. Xavi Talleda

The term “natural” is also misleading, as the sugar (sucrose) in Australian soft drink is just as natural as that found in Australian fruit juice because it comes from sugar cane. Whether juice is extracted from fruit, or sugar is obtained from sugar cane, both are forms of food processing.

And when it comes to your waistline, that sugar has to be used up or it will eventually result in weight gain. Think of that the next time you’re lining up for a super-sized freshly squeezed concoction from your favourite juice bar. That one drink may contain six to 10 pieces of fruit and probably has enough kilojoules to meet more than 10% of your daily energy needs.

While science is still unclear in this area, there is evidence to suggest that feelings of fullness (satiety) after a meal are lower when those kilojoules are consumed in liquid form (especially from more clear type fluids), rather than as solid food.

This could be due to the rapid transit of the liquid through the stomach and intestines, giving less time to stimulate signalling of satiety. This increases the chance of over-consuming energy with the end result of greater weight gain, or a sabotaging of weight loss.

One study conducted by Deakin University researchers found the more fruit juice Australian schoolchildren drank, the more likely they were to be overweight compared with kids who didn’t drink fruit juice. A similar link between increased fruit juice consumption and weight gain has been seen in children from low-income families.

Soft drink will give you the same sugar and calorie hit as fruit juice. Enrst Vikne

When you’re drinking fruit instead of eating it, you’re missing out on the pulp that’s left behind – and that’s where all the fibre is. Fibre is an important nutrient for controlling body weight and keeping the digestive tract healthy. But most Australians aren’t getting anywhere near the 30 grams for men and 25 grams for women of fibre recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Fibre also helps protect against colorectal cancer, the second biggest cancer killer of Australians each year, after lung cancer. In a recent update to the most comprehensive report ever published on the role of food, nutrition and physical activity on cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund upgraded the level of evidence linking foods containing fibre with protection against colorectal cancer from “probable” to “convincing”.

For someone struggling to keep their weight in check, drinking too much fruit juice or soft drink will make it hard to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. If you feel the need for a drink, water is your best choice. And when it comes to fruit, eat it, don’t drink it.

Join the conversation

14 Comments sorted by

  1. John Harland

    bicycle technician

    Do I hear an echo of the doctor in Woody Allen's "Sleeper"?

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  2. Allen L. Jasson

    Software Engineer/Secondary Teacher/Terrorist Sympathiser

    What I see here in the making is another collective groan about everything we were told was healthy being not healthy after all and a reinforcement of the "what's the use of trying?" mentality, concurrent with a shift of sales from fruit juices to soft drinks.
    Still lurking in the background is that inescapable reality - plenty of regular exercise (at least 20 minuts of energetic cardio-vascular each day) and a broad crossesction of natural, minimally processed foods - Meat, fish, fruit, vegetables…

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  3. Pat Rae

    logged in via Facebook

    While this article touches on the downsides of drinking both soft drink and fruit juice, the biggest issue is twofold: Firstly, both contain the sugar form fructose. Its either in its pure form fructose if derived from corn, or in its combined state sucrose (cane sugar is sucrose which is 1/2 glucose and 1/2 fructose) Fructose is dangerous in the form we currently consume it in (fruit juice and soft drinks) because it can only be processed by the liver, which converts it to new fat cells and stores it. None of the fructose calories we consume from fruit juice and soft drink ever get used for energy. The second issue is that fructose does not activate the key hormone leptin, which gives us the "I'm Full" feeling. This means we often over eat/drink because we never get the full feeling.

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  4. Tony Gentile

    logged in via Facebook

    The basic premise that both products contribute the same number of kilojoules is not disputed. What I do dispute is the finding that children who drink fruit juice are overweight or obese vis a vis children who do not.

    Most of these studies neglect to point out that the overweight and obese children also consume more of everything else. The correlation supposition is therefore questionable unless the study clearly reveals what quantities of all other foods consumed are consumed by these same children deemd 'overweight' or 'obese'.

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  5. John Harland

    bicycle technician

    What about the juices with suspended solids? Are they as bad?

    However kids will commonly prefer the clear juices, and added sugar.

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  6. Mark Carter

    logged in via Facebook

    Has there ever been a dumb idea ever gain as much traction in society as the idea that 'natural' automatically equates to good and harmless?
    You hear everything from anti-vaccination to shampoo in green bottles promoted as superior due its 'natural' qualities. When I hear 'natural' proposed not as a meaningful word for something unaltered by humans but instead as a baseless vague virtue I can't help thinking of all the other things which are also natural, such as uranium, arsenic, syphilis, asbestos, drought, famine, floods, earthquakes, dying young of preventable disease or being born dead because caesarians are un-natural.
    The case here of fruit juice's 'natural' image is 50% advertisers lies, and 50% consumer gullibility.

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  7. Scott Waye

    Academic Health Advisor

    This article falls short right from the start because it assumes sugar is bad and all fruit juices are the same.
    Pomegranate juice was shown to stop prostate cancer cells as well as other cancers. Please do not compare this juice and other dark juices to soft drinks. Here is the finding from UCLA on Pomegranate juice(only one of many dark juices that reverse cancer cells )

    “This is not a cure, but we may be able to change the way prostate cancer grows,” says Allan Pantuck, M.D., UCLA urologist…

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    1. Doug Cotton

      IT Manager

      In reply to Scott Waye

      Yes Scott. I've been taking pomegranate supplements for over four years now. It's sad that the medical profession does bot take more notice of research on this. It appears it can also help with atherosclerosis and skin problems.

      Aviram M, Dornfeld L, Rosenblat M, et al. Pomegranate juice consumption reduces oxidative stress, atherogenic modifications to LDL, and platelet aggregation: studies in humans and in atherosclerotic apolipoprotein E-deficient mice. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 May;71(5):1062-76…

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    2. Doug Cotton

      IT Manager

      In reply to Scott Waye

      Fruit juice can usually be diluted at least 50%-50% with water (which I do) whereas few would do so with soft drink. Just a tip.

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  8. John Harland

    bicycle technician

    Diet colas are far the best for taking rust off metal. Sugars form a sticky residue.

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  9. Tony O'Brien

    Retired Engineer

    Pat Rae's response hit the nail on the head. Fructose is the food stuff responsible for the rise in obesity in the western world over the last 50 years. It is 50% of the sugar in cane sugar ans 10% of the sugar in fruit juice. Whatever benefits the other ingredients in fruit may confer the fructose will be doing harm. As Pat Rae says fructose does not have the ability to tell the body that it has had enough like all other foods.
    Since the 1960's we have been told by food nutritionists and others that fat is bad for us - this is in fact only true of trans-fats. The other forms of fat are necessary for a healthy diet. Our ancestors evolved eating diets containing large quantities of fat, whereas until fairly recently sugar was rare in the human diet.
    Anyone wanting a detailed exposition of the evils of fructose should read David Gillespie's book "Sweet Poison".

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    1. Tim Crowe

      Associate Professor in Nutrition at Deakin University

      In reply to Tony O'Brien

      Tony, I would urge your read a consolidated response from a professional network of Australian dietitians and nutritions on David Gillespie's views (who is a lawyer with no background in nutrition or metabolic biochemistry) and his book to give a much more balanced approach to this issue http://www.skeptics.com.au/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Response-to-David-Gillespie-on-behalf-of-Nut-Net.pdf

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  10. Shirley Birney

    retiree

    I'm definitely opposed to commercial fruit juice in plastic, bottles or cartons, however I've juiced 2 large oranges every morning for 40 years and my weight has remained stable - about 54 kilograms.

    Method: In a small electric juicer squeeze 2 large oranges. Add all the pulp, a soup spoon of psyllium husks and water.

    Essential: A brisk walk of 3 kilometres every day. Any time of the day will do.

    Hint: Get a dog. They don't take "no" for an answer. "Walkies!"

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  11. Leslie Beck

    Realtor

    I wish this article would have touched on what type of fruit juice they are talking about. Because there is a big difference between Fruitopia and a juice made from solely oranges not from concentrate with pulp.
    I guess the whole liquid, not feeling full rule would still apply, but is the 100% juice really as bad as having pop?
    Does this then apply to a smoothie with blended berries and bananas?

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