Let’s stop pretending: Fruit juice isn’t any healthier than soda

Let’s stop pretending: Fruit juice isn’t any healthier than soda

With more awareness and readily-available information on soda, America has slowly turned away from fizzy drinks. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other big sodas have seen their sales slump thanks to the proven correlation between obesity and tooth decay associated with sodas.

But that hasn’t saved Americans from the wrath of sugary beverages, shown in the graph below:

Basically, it shows that while soda sales are steadily dipping, juice sales have remained level, while energy and sports drink sales are growing.

These are the same three drinks, shown in liters consumed in the country instead:

So, what’s the problem with these figures? Isn’t it okay that soda sales and consumption are dropping, while juice hasn’t remained relatively level? The problems lie in the underlying numbers.

According to BMJ Open, the American diet takes 58 percent of its total energy intake — more than half of the calories Americans consume! —from foods that are packed with lots of flavors, colors, and sweeteners. And almost 90 percent of the added sugars Americans consume came from heavily processed foods — the two main sources being soft drinks (17 percent) closely followed by fruit drinks (14 percent).

So, while soda sales are down, but Americans are finding other ways to load up on calories via sugary drinks, namely via ‘healthier’ flavoured juices.

As this chart from the Harvard School of Public Health diagrams, the majority of juices and sports drinks have as much, or more, sugar than your average soda:

How does a drink based from something healthy become so unhealthy for us? Nutrition researchers say the sugar in fruit juice is more concentrated than it is in whole fruits. Compared to chowing down on an apple and getting a bit of sugar, the juice gives you an uber-burst of sugar, like soda would.

“Juices have some nutritional value when the sugars are not added. But people don’t drink all that much [natural fruit] juice — it’s too expensive. They drink juice drinks with added sugars,” said Marion Nestle, a New York University professor and author of the book Soda Politics.

Stuff you think is fruit squeezed into a bottle is more along the lines of sugar water with artificial flavors and almost non-existent nutritional benefit. Even ‘pure’ fruit juices, like freshly squeezed orange juice, are loaded with calories and sugar.

That doesn’t mean to ignore juices entirely, of course – real fruit juices are still nutritionally superior to sodas. “Juices, like any other source of liquid sugars, are best consumed in small amounts,” says Nestle.

Should governments consider a tax on all sugary drinks? Many countries have started implementing a ‘soda tax’, curbing people from buying sodas by adding a slight premium to the price. The tax doesn’t include all milk-based beverages and fruit juices, but only soft drinks with added sugar. Soda companies are even considering lobbying against juices and sweetened milk products, arguing they weren’t hit with the tax despite being just as unhealthy as their industry.

While the point is fair, there’s always more to the story than the facts and figures.

“A tax on sweetened milk will bring down the wrath of the dairy industry, which no legislator wants to take on,” Nestle noted.

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