Why You Should Reconsider Orange Juice

February 1st 2015

Mike Vainisi

What's the deal with orange juice? 

As you may have heard, orange juice has a lot of sugar. In fact, it often contains as much sugar as many soft drinks or snacks. "A typical 8-ounce serving of orange juice has 110 calories and 26 grams of carbohydrates—more than a pair of Oreos," a Bloomberg report said. We know that sugar is not exactly the best thing when it comes to obesity, and studies have shown that fruit juice is linked with Type 2 diabetes.

Americans are becoming increasingly aware of orange juice's sugar problem. The proof is in sales data released last summer -- US orange juice sales are at record lows

So is this a good thing? Should we be avoiding orange juice?

Sugar is the same wherever you're getting it from.

The reason why many nutrition experts say you should pass on orange juice is because your body does not really care where sugar comes from. Sugar does damage regardless of whether you consumed it with a Sprite or with a glass of orange juice.

"Fruit juice isn't the same as intact fruit and it has as much sugar as many classical sugar drinks," a UK government adviser told the Sunday Times in 2013. "It is also absorbed very fast, so by the time it gets to your stomach your body doesn't know whether it's Coca-Cola or orange juice, frankly. I have to say it is a relatively easy thing to give up."

Fruit also contains fructose, a type of sugar that some scientists think might be particularly bad for you. Scientist Robert Lustig thinks that fructose damages the liver and could cause high uric acid levels in the blood, which increases the risk of gout.

The facts about sugar cannot be disputed. That's why, in response, the orange juice industry has sought to repair the product's once-great reputation by telling consumers that they should merely drink orange juice in moderation.

What about natural orange juice?

Products sold as natural orange juice are not any better.

In fact, no orange juice is truly "all natural" or "100%" juice, as Gizmodo pointed out in 2011. The process for making even all-natural juice is more complicated than just squeezing out an orange. Large juice makers such as Tropicana must produce large amounts of orange juice. To prevent spoiling, the juice is stripped of oxygen and placed in large vats. Juice without oxygen, though, would taste pretty bad. So that's why, later on, the makers add "flavor packs" of "orange essence and oil" to the juice. The difference between Minute Maid and Tropicana? The flavor pack they use. Juice producers have been sued in at least a dozen states over flavor packs. The people suing claim that labeling these juices "natural" is a misleading.

What about concentrate versus not-from-concentrate? While the two manufacturing processes are different, the health impacts are about the same. Both strip the flavor and add it back in with flavor packs.

Nothing beats just eating the fruit itself.

While some research has shown that orange juice maintains more of the fruit's nutrients than other fruit juice, if you truly want the benefits that come from oranges, you should just eat an orange. When you drink juice, you're only taking in what's been squeezed from the fruit. That leaves with only a small percentage of the total healthy material contained in the fruit.

 “It’s true that some fruit juices have vitamins and minerals, but whole fruit supplies the same nutrients, plus it has fiber, which slows your body’s absorption of the sugar,” says Linda Greene from Consumer Reports

But let's not get crazy.

Despite these concerns, orange juice is not the worst thing in the world. It still contains vitamins and still can be part of your daily fruit intake. You can also reduce your daily dose of sugar if you water down your orange juice.

Like most food and drink, orange juice is best in moderation.