Fruit Juice: Why Is This Soda's Evil Twin?

Fruit Juice: Why Is This Soda's Evil Twin?

Story at-a-glance -

  • Fruit drinks often contain very little fruit juice and may contain more sugar and calories than soda, making them equally bad, if not worse, for your health
  • Sugary drinks, whether fruit juice, fruit drinks or soda, also contain fructose, which has been identified as one of the primary culprits in the meteoric rise of obesity and related health problems
  • If your fruit juice is labeled a “fruit drink,” “fruit beverage,” or “fruit cocktail,” it’s because it does not contain 100% juice and likely contains high-fructose corn syrup and flavorings
  • Virtually all sugary drinks are a primary source of excessive sugar, calories and fructose. Drink plenty of pure water as your primary beverage of choice instead

By Dr. Mercola

Half of the U.S. population over the age of 2 now consumes sugary drinks on a daily basis -- and this figure does not even include 100% fruit juices, flavored milk or sweetened teas, all of which are sugary too, which means the figure is actually even higher.

Many people mistakenly believe that as long as you are drinking fruit juice, it's healthy even though it's sweet, but this is a dangerous misconception that is fueling the rising rates of weight gain, obesity, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes in the United States and other developed nations.

In fact, you are doing your body no favor whatsoever by swapping soda for fruit juice, and as a concise infographic posted by Discovery pointed out, oftentimes fruit drinks are actually worse for your health than soda.

Fruit Juice is NOT a Healthy Beverage

First off, most fruit drinks on the market should be more aptly named flavored sugar-water, because many contain next to no real juice.

If your fruit juice is actually labeled a "fruit drink," "fruit beverage," or "fruit cocktail," it's because it does not contain 100% juice.

In fact, according to the Discovery graphic, on average fruit drinks contain just 10% fruit juice!

And according to the Sugary Drink FACTS report, which was developed to scientifically measure food marketing to youth:

"Some fruit drink packages are covered with images of real fruit, even though these drinks may contain no more than 5 percent real fruit juice. The actual ingredients are water and high-fructose corn syrup, or in some cases "real sugar," such as cane sugar. Examples include: Kool-Aid Jammers, Hawaiian Punch, Capri Sun Orange, and Capri Sun Sunrise (which Capri Sun markets as a breakfast drink).

… Parents believe that full-sugar soda is not a healthy option for their children, but they are under the impression that fruit drinks are healthier. What parents don't realize is that ounce-for-ounce, the fruit drinks are just as high in calories and added sugar as soda."

This is not to say that 100% fruit juices are healthy, although it may provide a source of vitamins and other nutrients if it's freshly squeezed. The real issue here, whether we're talking about fruit juice, fruit drinks, soda or any other sugary beverage is the sugar, and especially the fructose!

One eight-ounce glass of orange juice has about eight full teaspoons of sugar, and at least 50 percent of that sugar is fructose. That's almost as much as a can of soda, which contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar. Fruit drinks, on the other hand, will likely contain high-fructose corn syrup, just as soda does. In fact, soda giants like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper are actually the parent companies to most sugary drinks on the market, and that includes fruit juices!

Whether it's Fruit Juice or Soda, the Health Damage from Fructose is the Same

Drinking just one eight-ounce glass of orange juice will wallop your system with 25 grams of fructose, which is more than you should have the entire day. Of course, many people, especially kids and teenagers, drink far more sugary fruit drinks in a day than that, and that's just what the beverage companies are banking on.

The problem is that fructose has been identified as one of the primary culprits in the meteoric rise of obesity and related health problems, and while the majority of the problem is caused by the large quantities of high fructose corn syrup added to so many processed foods and sweetened beverages, naturally occurring fructose in large amounts of fruit juice is also a problem.

Around 100 years ago the average American consumed a mere 15 grams of fructose a day, primarily in the form of whole fruit. One hundred years later, one-fourth of Americans are consuming more than 135 grams per day (that's over a quarter of a pound!), largely in the form of soda and other sweetened beverages.

Fructose at 15 grams a day is harmless (unless you suffer from high uric acid levels). However, at nearly 10 times that amount it becomes a major cause of obesity and nearly all chronic degenerative diseases.

The American Beverage Association and other front groups will try to persuade you that fructose in high fructose corn syrup is no worse for you than sugar, but this is not true. ABA also claims there is "no association between high fructose corn syrup and obesity," but a long lineup of scientific studies suggest otherwise.

For example:

  • Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children's Hospital did a study of the effects of sugar-sweetened drinks on obesity in children. He found that, for each additional serving of a sugar-sweetened drink, both body mass index and odds of obesity increased.
  • The Fizzy Drink Study in Christchurch, England explored the effects on obesity when soda machines were removed from schools for one year. In the schools where the machines were removed, obesity stayed constant. In the schools where soda machines remained, obesity rates continued to rise. Remember, fruit drinks often contain the same amount (or more) of sugar and fructose as soda, so it stands to reason that reducing fruit drinks would result in similar trends.
  • In a 2009 study, 16 volunteers were fed a controlled diet including high levels of fructose. Ten weeks later, the volunteers had produced new fat cells around their hearts, livers and other digestive organs. They also showed signs of food-processing abnormalities linked to diabetes and heart disease. A second group of volunteers who were fed a similar diet, but with glucose replacing fructose, did not have these problems.
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Fructose Beats Up Your Liver Just Like Alcohol

Fructose is also a likely culprit behind the millions of U.S. children struggling with non-alcoholic liver disease, which is caused by a build-up of fat within liver cells. Fructose is very hard on your liver, in much the same way as drinking alcohol.

After eating fructose, 100 percent of the metabolic burden rests on your liver—ONLY your liver can break it down. This is much different than consuming glucose, in which your liver has to break down only 20 percent, and the remaining 80 percent is immediately metabolized and used by the rest of the cells in your body.

Fructose is also converted into fat that gets stored in your liver and other tissues as body fat. Part of what makes fructose so bad for your health is that it is metabolized to fat in your body far more rapidly than any other sugar. Under normal circumstances, if you eat 120 calories of fructose, 40 calories are stored as fat. But if you eat the same amount of glucose, only 6 calories gets stored as fat.

Fruit Juice Increases Your Uric Acid Levels, Like Soda Does

Thankfully there is a simple inexpensive test you can use to see if you are consuming too much sugar or fruit.

As it turns out, elevated uric acid levels are a major component of several chronic diseases that have been linked to fructose consumption, such as diabetes and heart disease. Recent research indicates that fructose is the ONLY type of sugar that will raise your uric acid levels, which really strengthens the theory that excessive fructose consumption in sugary drinks is at the very heart of most, if not all, of these diseases.

In fact, it is the specific pathways used to metabolize fructose that generates the production of uric acid (fructose typically generates uric acid within minutes of ingestion). These pathways are entirely different from those used by glucose and other sugars.

I became fully aware of the dramatic and devastating impact fructose has on your uric acid levels when I interviewed Dr. Richard Johnson on this topic last year.

According to Dr. Johnson's research, uric acid appears to take on a lead role in creating health problems when it reaches levels in your body of 5.5 mg per dl or higher. At this level, uric acid is associated with an increased risk for developing high blood pressure, as well as diabetes, obesity and kidney disease.

He believes the ideal range for uric acid lies between 3 to 5.5 mg per dl, and getting your uric acid levels tested can further help you determine just how strict you need to be with limiting your fructose consumption.

On a final note, this is also the reason why drinking sugary drinks, including fruit juice, may significantly increase your risk of gout. In one study, published last year, women who drank 12 ounces or more of orange juice a day doubled their risk of gout, and those who drank just six ounces of juice per day increased their risk by 41 percent. A similar study on men was published in 2008. In that study, men who drank two or more sugary soft drinks a day had an 85 percent higher risk of gout than those who drank less than one a month.

Fruit juice and fructose-rich fruits such as oranges and apples also increased the risk.

Beware: Beverage Companies are Out for Your Kids

As a parent, it's important to talk to your kids not only about the health implications of drinking soda, but also those from drinking all sugary beverages such as fruit juice and fruit drinks. And let your older kids know that they are prime targets for sugary drink marketing tactics.

The Sugary Drink FACTS report revealed some shocking statistics as well as stealthy ways that beverage companies are trying to get your kids hooked on sugary drinks:

  • Children's exposure to TV ads for sugary drinks from Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper Snapple Group nearly doubled from 2008 to 2010.
  • was the most-visited sugary drink company website with 170,000 unique youth visitors per month (42,000 of whom were young children and 129,000 were teens); Capri Sun's website was the second-most viewed site, attracting 35,000 young children and 35,000 teens per month.
  • Twenty-one sugary drink brands had YouTube channels in 2010 with more than 229 million views by June 2011, including 158 million views for the Red Bull channel alone.
  • Coca-Cola was the most popular of all brands on Facebook, with more than 30 million fans; Red Bull and Monster ranked 5th and 15th, with more than 20 million and 11 million fans, respectively.

There's No Reason to Drink Sugary Fruit Beverages

Many people are now conscious of the health risks of drinking soda. I suggest you add fruit drinks and fruit juice to this category, as they are really one in the same. These types of sugary drinks are a primary source of excessive fructose. Instead, drink plenty of pure water as your primary beverage of choice.

As for fructose, I recommend you get serious about restricting your consumption of fructose to no more than 25 grams per day, with a maximum of 15 grams a day from fresh fruit (not fruit juice). If you're already overweight, or have diabetes, heart disease or cancer, then you're probably better off cutting that down to 10-15 grams per day, fruit included.

I do realize that reducing sugar/fructose in your diet can be tough for some people. After all, sugar is just as addictive as cocaine! But it is possible, and Dr. Johnson provides helpful guidelines for doing so in his book, The Sugar Fix.

+ Sources and References