Uncovering the Facts about Fruit Juice

Taking a closer look at natural sugars and the role of 100% fruit juice in a healthy diet.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Sugar has been blamed by some as the cause of the obesity epidemic. It’s not only added sugars in foods and notably beverages that are fingered as culprits, natural sugars in 100% fruit juice are also under attack.

An ongoing debate alleges fruit juice is just another sugary drink making Americans fat and overshadowing the contribution fruit juice can make to nutrient intake and diet quality.

Breaking Down Sugars

Natural sugars are found in nutrient-rich dairy, vegetables, fruit juice and fruit – all are essential components of a healthy diet.

Whereas added sugars are sugars added to foods and beverages during processing or at home, these sugars are not essential to a healthy diet and instead they represent extra calories. Added sugars include all sugars, juice concentrates, agave juice, honey, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar, white sugar, turbinado, raw sugar, agave, maple syrup, date sugar, malt syrup, pancake syrup, fructose sweetener, liquid fructose, anhydrous dextrose, crystal dextrose and dextrin.

The problem is Americans consume too much added sugar and diets high in added sugars may lead to weight gain, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation and increases in cholesterol, which is why the American Heart Association® (AHA) recommends limits on added sugar.

Although fruit juices contain natural sugars and beneficial compounds, the body does not differentiate between natural and added sugars. Once absorbed, all sugars are metabolized in pretty much the same way.

Whole Fruit vs 100% Fruit Juice

Fruit juice provides many of the same nutritional benefits as whole fruit, yet most experts recommend whole fruit because fruit juice passes through the digestive system quickly and can easily be over consumed.

The fiber in fruit takes longer to chew, promotes a feeling of fullness, slows down digestion and reduces blood sugar spikes compared with fruit juice. Further, people who eat more whole fruit tend to have healthier diets and lifestyles.

Is 100% Fruit Juice Healthy?

Nutrients in fruit juices differ considerably depending upon the fruit. Citrus juices, like orange and grapefruit, are more nutrient dense and higher in fiber. Many fortified juices are excellent sources of nutrients, such as calcium, typically missing in many diets.

Does 100% Fruit Juice Cause Weight Gain?

Fruit juice consumption can be part of a healthy diet and not lead to weight gain as long as limits are respected. The American Academy of Pediatrics states 100% fruit juice can be healthy when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet. They recommend limiting daily fruit juice to 4 to 6 ounces for 1 to 6 year olds and 8 to 12 ounces for 7 to 12 year olds.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans acknowledges fruit juice can help meet goals and recommends 2.5 cups fruit/day with no more than half from juice. One cup of 100% fruit juice is equivalent to one cup of fruit in a healthy eating pattern.

The association of fruit juice intake with weight gain is because juice is easy to overconsume, even though the sugars are natural and paired with healthy compounds.

When it comes to the evidence on the risks associated with obesity, the results are mixed. Research has shown that children, who drink fruit juice, also eat more fruit, have healthier diets, higher intakes of total fiber and are more likely to be at a normal weight.

Studies also show children and adults who consume fruit juice are more likely to meet requirements for vitamins A, C, folate, magnesium and potassium.

Total Diet Approach

In moderation, fruit juice delivers most of the benefits of whole fruit and may help fill nutrient gaps and meet daily goals for fruit.

Lower the sugar and increase the fiber of fruit juice by blending the whole fruit into a juice. Similar to whole fruit, blending in whole vegetables, whole grains or protein may help increase fiber, reduce sugar concentration and slow down absorption.

More important than any single nutrient, food or beverage is the total diet. Enjoy your juice, but do so within recommended limits.