You walk into your neighborhood market and want something cold to drink. The health-conscious you bypasses the soda section and heads to the healthier juice section. There are rows of them — orange, apple, grape — oh, and look, so many different smoothies loaded with blueberries, pomegranate, strawberries, protein, acai, pineapple, kiwi, and none of them have any added sugar. Perfect.
Stop right there! You might as well back up to the soda section and grab a good ‘ole cola.
Why? Because fruit juices and most commercial fruit juice smoothies are no better for you than a can of soda. Yep, you heard correctly. They are absolutely loaded with sugar. In fact, they have as much sugar and, in many cases more sugar, than an equal serving of soda.
Still scratching your head over this one? A 16-ounce serving cola has a hulking 13 1/2 teaspoons of sugar. Apple juice and orange juice have nearly the same amount. Grape juice has 20 teaspoons of sugar. A vast majority of the presumed “healthy” Naked and Odwalla Fruit Smoothies have about 15 teaspoons of sugar.
Stop and think about this. Imagine buying a cup of coffee, stepping to the service counter, and ripping open between 13 and 19 packets of sugar to pour into your coffee. If you saw someone do this you would be disgusted. And yet, that’s exactly what you do every time you reach for a fruit juice beverage.
The fruit smoothies are equally bad. On average you’re consuming 15 teaspoons of sugar with each 16-ounce bottle. The marketing of these beverages, however, makes you believe that they are actually good for you. The label of the Naked Pomegranate Acai Smoothie features an illustration that shows exactly how much fruit is in each bottle: 1 2/3 pomegranates, 95 Acai berries, 1 1/3 apples, 1/2 banana, 14 red grapes and 14 white grapes. All of this fruit at the price of nearly 16 teaspoons of sugar.
Here’s my question: What would happen if you actually sat down and ate 1 2/3 pomegranates, 95 Acai berries, 1 1/3 apples, 1/2 banana, 14 red grapes and 14 white grapes? It would certainly take a lot longer to consume all that fruit than it would to drink the smoothie, which would reduce the sugar “spike”. You would also feel full. That’s a heck of a lot of fruit to eat in one sitting.
From a nutritional standpoint juices also lose. As Robert Lustig, M.D., author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth about Sugar, explains, the biggest problem with juices is that they are stripped of fiber. Fiber reduces sugar absorption, making you feel fuller faster and it suppresses insulin. The Pomegranate Acai smoothie, for instance, has ZERO grams of fiber versus a whopping 45 grams of fiber in the actual whole fruit. Whoa! Make a giant fruit salad.
Fruit without fiber sets off a sugar bomb in your body.
In fact, the concentrated sugar in juice, stripped of all fiber, makes blood sugar levels and the corresponding insulin response soar. According to Lustig, when the fiber is removed the chemistry of the sugar changes. In a whole fruit the sugar is sucrose, which is 1/2 glucose and 1/2 fructose. However, once separated the sugar becomes 100% fructose, which is metabolized ONLY in the liver. Instead of providing energy, it generates fat, and becomes insulin-resistant.
What does this mean? There’s a host of medical issues, as described in Happy Healthy Long Life, a medical librarian’s adventures in evidence-based living, associated with consuming fructose (yes, juice!), including obesity, liver disfunction, hypertension, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, systemic inflammation, increased appetite, chronic fatigue, and sugar cravings. Just a couple of months ago researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, as reported in the Harvard Gazette, found that greater consumption of fruit juices was associated with a higher risk of type-2 diabetes.
Think about what this means for the millions of children in this country that drink juices boxes and glasses of juice throughout the day. From personal experience I can tell you that fruit juices are expounded as a healthful alternative to soda and milk. The amount of sugar children are drinking is alarming and perhaps the underlying contributor to the rise of obesity in this country.