Is fruit juice healthy?Ken Bendor
Americans don’t eat enough fruits. In a 2010 survey, an insanely high 80% of Americans did not meet fruit recommendations. Fruit juice is marketed as a healthy alternative to other sweetened beverages and as a way to increase nutrient intake. There is a high degree of controversy on whether fruit juice is an acceptable replacement for whole fruit. Fruit juice is high in sugar and low in fiber. Typically, this combination makes for a lousy choice. Still, many consumers use fruit juice as a way to improve health. Is drinking fruit juice really the same as eating whole fruit?
What is fruit juice?
Fruit juice is a term sometimes used in an overly expansive way. Several types of beverages including actual fruit juice, fruit drinks, and fruit flavored soda, are lumped into the same category. There is a huge difference between these products. Fruit juice refers to a beverage made from a certain percentage (preferably 100%) of juice. There are also fruit drinks which contain flavoring, but very little fruit juice. Soda refers to carbonated, flavored water. Fruit drinks and soda contain no nutrients.
The Food and Drug Administration requires labels of juice to indicate the percent of juice contained in the product. It considers 100% fruit juice as, “juices directly expressed from a fruit or vegetable.” When juice is made from concentrate, manufacturers use Brix concentrations to declare juice content. Manufacturers must declare the percent juice of the beverage on the label, for example: contains 100% juice, or contains 50% juice. Typically, products with a higher percentage of juice contain more nutrients1.
Nutrient Content of Fruit Juice
Vitamins, Minerals, and Fiber in Fruit Juice
When fruit is processed into juice, the main nutrients lost are fiber, calcium, and vitamin C. With the exception of these three nutrients, a 1/2 cup of 100% fruit juice contains similar amounts of vitamins and minerals as a 1/2 cup of whole fruit2.
Phytonutrients/phytochemicals in Fruit Juice
Phytonutrients or phytochemicals are substances found in fruit and fruit juices. According to the National Cancer Institute, these substances are not essential to life, but work to promote health3. Fruit juice contains many phytonutrients including carotenoids, lutein, carotene, lycopene, phenolic acids, stilbenes, and flavonoids2.
What does research say about fruit juice?
Study 1 & 2: Fruit Juice and Diabetes
Fruit juice, regardless of percentage, is high in sugar. These liquid calories do not provide much satiety, leading to potential over-consumption, and possibly, weight gain. Obesity is a major risk factor in developing type 2 diabetes. The first two studies looked at the effect of fruit juice intake on the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The first study looked at over 27,000 Japanese who had no history of diabetes. Researchers examined the participants’ soft drink and fruit juice intakes over 10 years. During that period, 824 subjects were diagnosed with diabetes. The study concluded that there was an association between soft drink consumption and developing type 2 diabetes, but no link between 100% fruit juice intake and diabetes4.
The next study was a meta analysis of eight studies with over 329,000 participants. This analysis investigated the association between fruit juice (both 100% and sugar sweetened) and incidence of type 2 diabetes. The authors concluded that increased consumption of sugar sweetened juice was significantly associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. They did not find the same link with an increased consumption of 100% fruit juice5.
Study 3: Fruit Juice Intake vs. Body Weight In Children
The next article was a meta analysis of 21 studies. It looked at the relationship between fruit juice intake and body weight of children. Of the 21 studies, six showed an association between fruit juice consumption and weight gain. The authors noted a few issues with these six studies. For example, one study only found weight gain with apple juice, another only in girls, and another only in those who were already overweight. The authors did not find sufficient evidence to support an association between consuming 100% fruit juice and weight gain in children or adolescents6.
Study 4: Juice Consumption and Diet Quality in Adults
The final study compared 100% orange juice consumption to diet quality in adults using surveys collected on over 8,800 participants. Participants were split into consumers and non-consumers of orange juice. Among consumers, intake of calories, carbohydrates, and sugar intake was higher. Additionally, consumers had higher intakes of vitamin A, B6, C, folate, magnesium, and potassium, but lower intakes of sodium. Finally, consumers had a higher healthy eating index indicating a better overall diet. Researchers concluded 100% orange juice consumption was associated with better diet quality and increased adherence to dietary guidelines7.
Is fruit juice healthy?
Current research on fruit juice makes an important distinction between 100% fruit juice and fruit flavored drinks. The evidence does not link 100% fruit juice consumption to issues facing other sugar sweetened beverages such as weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and poor diet quality.
Fruit juice might not be a perfect replacement for whole fruit, however, it contains many of the same nutrients. Unfortunately, even 100% fruit juice lacks fiber which is a key nutrient in improving overall health. Still, 100% fruit juice is one way to increase nutrient intake. Juice is high in sugar and low in fiber; moderation is needed as this combination enables over consumption of calories.
When drinking fruit juice, ensure you choose 100% fruit juice. Fruit drinks with low juice content do not share the same health benefits as the 100% variety. Check the ingredients label to ensure the product does not contain any added sugar. Whole fruit are still a better choice than even the best quality juices.
The Bottom Line
When consumed as part of an overall healthy lifestyle, 100% fruit juice has a place in increasing nutrient content. It’s a lot easier to overindulge on fruit juice than a whole fruit. Moderating fruit juice intake is important in maintaining a balance between nutrients and calorie/sugar intake.
- FDA Food Labeling: Percentage juice declaration for foods purporting to be beverages that contain fruit or vegetable juice. Code of Federal Regulations Title 21, Chapter 1, Subchapter B, Part 101, Subpart B. §101.30.
- Clemens, R., & Drewnowski, A. (2015). Squeezing Fact from Fiction about 100% Fruit Juice. Advances in Nutrition, 6(2). doi:10.3945/an.114.007328
- Phytochemical. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-drug/def/phytochemical
- Eshak, E. S., & Iso, H. (2013). Soft drink, 100% fruit juice, and vegetable juice intakes and risk of diabetes mellitus. Clinical Nutrition, 32(2), 300-308. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2012.08.003
- Xi, B., & Li, S. (2014). Intake of Fruit Juice and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE, 9(3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093471
- Oneil, C. E., & Nicklas, T. A. (2008). A Review of the Relationship Between 100% Fruit Juice Consumption and Weight in Children and Adolescents. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2(4), 315-354. doi:10.1177/1559827608317277
- O’Neil, C. E., & Nicklas, T. A. (2012). 100% Orange juice consumption is associated with better diet quality, improved nutrient adequacy, decreased risk for obesity, and improved biomarkers of health in adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2006. Nutrition Journal, 11(1). doi:10.1186/1475-2891-11-107