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Should we still be drinking fruit juice?
Drinking a glass of fruit juice may seem like a healthy way to start the day. It’s better for your health than a sugary soft drink, right? That may be true, but drinking a lot of fruit juice can be bad for our health too. This comes down to both the acid content of fruit juice and the amount of sugars in it. Let’s take a closer look at some of the arguments for and against juice, and what the best fruit juice is for you, if you just can’t give it up.
Is fruit juice healthy?
Fruit juice does have some health benefits. Fruit juice contains vitamins, minerals and plant compounds that can help to protect you from disease. In some countries, including Australia, half a glass (125mL) of unsweetened fruit juice can count towards the recommended two servings of fruit a day. However, note that in Australia, the guidelines recommend using fruit juice to meet your quota on an ‘occasional’ basis only. Including juice is thought to help make it a bit easier for people to meet the recommendations. Currently, only one in three of us eat enough fruit! So, any role that fruit juice can play in helping us achieve our daily fruit recommendations is a good one, right? Before you let those juice bars or health companies sell you the vision of drinking fresh juice daily, keep reading this article.
Fruit juice and sugar
Unfortunately, fruit juice is also a concentrated source of natural sugar. One small glass of juice (250ml) is equivalent to the sugars in four pieces of fruit. And that’s not four slices of apple, that’s four whole apples. So, it makes a lot of sense that when it comes to juicing versus eating whole foods, nutritionists would prefer us to eat the fruit itself! Eating whole fruit is good for you as we’re also consuming the high fibre content of the fruit. When fruit is juiced, a lot of the fibre held in the skin and pulp never makes it to the juice itself.
That same small glass of fruit juice may contain the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar. So, if you reach for a glass of fruit juice any time you feel thirsty, you can see how quickly and easily your intake of sugar could skyrocket.
One of the main problems with fruit juice is that it’s high in calories and sugar, low in fibre, and very easy to drink. If you drink high quantities of fruit juice, you could be contributing to excess energy intake. This can increase your risk of obesity and other conditions like type 2 diabetes.
If you’re drinking it regularly, it can lead to weight gain by adding unnecessary energy to your day. As we mentioned earlier, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting fruit juice consumption to 125ml (as a single serve) occasionally. How much is 125ml? Well, a regular size can of soft drink contains 375ml, so 125ml is one third of that. You may be better off reaching for a big bottle of water to quench your thirst! Read more about how much water we need.
The acid content of fruit juice can damage your teeth
As fruit juice is high in sugar, it can provide a food for the bacteria in dental plaque, resulting in an increase in dental decay. The other issue is that the acid content of many fruit juices can start to damage the enamel on your teeth and this can lead to a higher risk of tooth decay. Just how high is the acid content in fruit juice? Well, drinks with a pH of less than 4 can be damaging to the teeth. The lower the pH level of a juice, the more acidic it is.
Here are the approximate pH levels of some common fruit juices:
- Cranberry juice - 2.3 to 2.5
- Grape juice - 3.3
- Apple juice – between 3.35 and 4
- Orange juice between 3.3 to 4.2.
As you can see, cranberry juice has the highest acid content, while apple and orange are the lowest. However, all are still erosive to our teeth. That’s just another reason to go easy on those vodka-cranberries!
How does fruit juice compare to soft drinks and sports drinks?
It’s tempting to think that fruit juice is better for you than soft drinks, and that may be true in some ways. After all, fruit juice contains vitamins, minerals and plant compounds, whereas a glass of Coke certainly does not.
But soft drinks and fruit juice both contain high levels of sugar. There are around six teaspoons in a 250ml glass of fruit juice and sixteen teaspoons in a 600ml bottle of soft drink.
Another common pitfall is turning to sports drinks as a ‘healthier choice’. These are often marketed at helping you perform and/or recover better by replacing lost electrolytes. But, unless you’re a high-performance athlete burning lots of calories and sweating profusely, it’s best to ditch the sports drink and choose plain water instead. Read more about sports drinks vs water.
Is eating fruit good for you?
Yes, most definitely! Fresh is best because it’s easy to eat too much dried fruit, and canned fruit is fine as long as there’s no added sugar. With the wide variety of fruit we grow in Australia, there’s always something in season.
Eating a good variety of fruit and vegetables plays an important part in our daily diet. Vegetables and fruits contain vitamins and minerals to keep our bodies healthy and can help protect against some diseases. They also give us a good dose of fibre. According to the Guidelines for Healthy Eating, we should be eating two serves of fruit a day.
A standard serve of fruit is about 150g or:
- 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear
- 2 small apricots, kiwi fruits or plums
- 1 cup of diced or canned fruit (with no added sugar)
Try this delicious alternative to fruit juice: treat yourself to a tropical smoothie
What’s the best fruit juice for our health?
The best fruit juice, is the juicy piece of whole fruit you bite into! If you must drink fruit juice, make sure you check the label and choose a product with no added sugar. Juice should not contain artificial sweeteners either. Here are some tips to help make your juice a bit healthier, if you’ve got a craving you just can’t beat:
- Pour the juice into a small glass to make sure your serving size is a maximum of 125ml or less, and only enjoy as an occasional treat.
- Blend your fruit instead of turning to the juicer. Blending maintains the whole fruit, including all that fibre. Just be mindful of the quantities you’re using!
- Add vegetables into your fresh juice.
- Dilute juice with plenty of water.
I’m heading to a fresh juice bar, what should I grab?
You know the ones. They’re in almost every suburban Australian shopping centre, as well as being well positioned to serve thirsty city workers and shoppers. If you’ve only got time to squeeze in some liquid sustenance on the go, what is your best option?
Let’s not forget, it’s okay to treat yourself every now and then! But if it’s a regular thing, than maybe consider options like a veggie-packed green juice, or a smoothie instead. You’ll often find options like kale, spinach and spirulina at fresh juice bars, which can amp up the nutrition factor.
Also, consider asking for a small size. Some drinks marketed as ‘healthy choices’ by popular juice bars contain as many calories as a main meal.
Is juicing your own fruit better?
Juicing your own fruit at home offers no real benefit over commercially produced fruit juice. You could lower the overall sugar content by adding vegetables into the mix, but the juicing process still removes the beneficial fibres. When it comes down to juicing vs eating whole food, you’re always best just grabbing a piece of fruit.
What should we have instead of fruit juice?
If you’re looking to quench your thirst, water is always the healthiest option. It’s also free and readily available in Australia and causes no damage to your teeth. In fact, the fluoride that’s added to tap water helps to protect your teeth from decay. The recommended guideline for men, is 10 cups of water per day, while for women, it’s eight. Can you say you get this much water in?
If you’re looking for a bit more energy, whole fruit is a much healthier option than fruit juice. Whole fruit contains more fibre making it more filling and leaving you less likely to consume too much sugar. For example, it’s much easier to drink the juice of seven apples than it is to eat seven apples in one sitting.
If you’re trying to kick the habit of drinking a fresh juice daily, but still want that fruity vibe, give these two a try.
Homemade iced tea (not bottled iced tea which is high in sugar) is refreshing and can be made by brewing four teaspoons of loose-leaf herbal tea with one litre of freshly boiled water. You can add a few mint leaves, store in the fridge until chilled, and enjoy with a slice of lemon. There are now many different varieties of cold infusion tea-bags available with lots of flavours and no added sugars.
Fruit infused water
Fruit infused water is simply water with fruits such as strawberries, lemon, orange and watermelon added. Add a little mint for a special touch. You can even add a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice for an extra zing.
Read more about gut health: What’s your poo trying to tell you?
What about coconut water?
Coconut water is the water of a young, green coconut and because of the hydrating qualities and the electrolytes it contains, it’s been marketed as a low sugar alternative to water. The reality is that it’s only low in sugar when you compare it to fruit juice or soda drinks.
While it is high in potassium, it only has small amounts of other electrolytes like calcium, phosphorus and sodium. It also isn’t very high in vitamins.
Is coconut water bad for your teeth?
Coconut water isn’t as acidic as fruit juice, so that’s a plus, but coconut water is often high in natural sugars, and levels can vary quite dramatically. Many of the marketed forms of the drink also contain added sugar as well.
Overall, drinking coconut water is ok occasionally, but it’s better just to stick to plain old water.
Try some of our healthy recipes: Feed your body the food it really loves!
Ways to encourage children to eat fruit
Eat the rainbow
It’s important to try to eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruit each day as they all contain different nutrients. Focusing on colour can be a good way to engage your kids.
Take some watermelon and rock melon slices and, using a cookie cutter, create some beautiful flower fruit shapes. Add a popsicle stick for the stem, and watch your children giggle and gobble them down!
Show your child some love in their lunchbox by adding a heart to their apple. Simply take a red and a green apple, cut them in half and remove the core from each side. Cut a heart shape out from a half of each colour using a cookie cutter, and then switch the pieces over.
Start with a slice of watermelon and ask your toddler to pick some fruit toppings like passionfruit and blueberries.
You can find more ideas for getting your kids to eat fruit and vegetables at the Queensland Department of Health.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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