Drinking fruit juice on a daily basis is the norm for many Britons, as having one portion (150ml) a day counts as one of your five-a-day of fruits and vegetables and juice is usually seen as a health drink.
This is the case for both adults and children, with many parents and schools providing tasty juice boxes for their kids. But new research on the impact of a daily fruit juice for children may cause people to rethink this.
A study by the University of Toronto suggests that giving children a fruit juice every day can cause weight gain, with researchers warning that juice is “liquid calories”.
The team examined data from 46,000 children who participated in previous clinical trials involving popular juice types such as apple, orange and grape.
They found that the more frequently the children drank fruit juice, the more weight they gained. Each glass of fruit juice drunk daily was linked to a small rise in body mass index (BMI).
Researchers acknowledges that while fruit juice can be a “convenient means to meet daily fruit recommendations” and provides “essential vitamins, antioxidants and polyphenols”, parents and guardians should limit children’s intake of juice to prevent obesity.
Because fruit juice tends to contain high levels of sugar, there have been concerns that drinking excessive amounts can damage teeth. However, experts point out that there are other risks associated with fruit juice that might not be immediately obvious to consumers.
Is fruit juice bad for you?
Drinking fruit juice is not necessarily detrimental to your health when consumed in moderate amounts, but it also depends on the quality and composition of the juice.
Many commercially available fruit juices contain high levels of added sugars, which can lead to excessive sugar consumption.
Eating too much sugar has been linked to a number of health issues, warns Dr Suhail Hussain, private home visiting GP covering Hertfordshire and Greater London. This includes obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dental problems.
Dr Hussan adds: “Fruit juices can be calorie-dense without the satiety provided by the fibre found in whole fruits. This may contribute to overconsumption of calories, potentially leading to weight gain.”
Without fibre, fruit juice can also lead to a quicker spike in blood sugar levels. “This rapid increase may be problematic, especially for individuals with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition.”
The dental issues that may arise from frequent consumption of fruit juices include enamel erosion, due to the high acid content. Nutritionist Resource member Sonal Jenkins warns that this can “change the appearance of your teeth and opens the door for bacteria that can cause cavities or infection”.
“The way to reduce acid erosion is to reduce consumption of these beverages, dilute the juice with water, drink through a straw and rinse the mouth after with water,” she advises.
Are there any benefits to fruit juice?
Fruit juice prepared in certain ways can carry some benefits. Jenkins tells Yahoo UK that the best way to consume it is as a cold-pressed juice, as it will retain “more of its vitamins and minerals” and less sugar.
She adds: “If you prefer to get a carton of bottled fruit juice due to affordability and convenience, then opt for the better quality brands and cloud apple juices and non-concentrated fruit juices.
“Many ready-to-buy shelf juices have added vitamins and pulp to replenish the lost vitamins and fibre during pasteurisation.”
Some fruit juices may have more benefits than others. Pomegranate and tomato juice contain nutrients that can boost heart health, while pure cranberry juice without added sugars can benefit people who are susceptible to urinary tract infections.
Jenkins also says that tart cherry juice can help with inflammatory arthritis, gout, and sleep issues. Overall, she adds that fruit juice “can be consumed as part of a healthy diet”.
‘We need to reframe juice’
Most in the fruit juice industry are keen to point out that juices do carry some benefits. The Fruit Juice Science Centre, an organisation funded by juice manufacturers and packaging companies, highlighted a 2022 review commissioned by the World Health Organisation to counter the more recent research.
The systematic review and meta-analysis examined data from 60 studies and concluded that “100% fruit juice consumption makes little to no difference to increased BMI, percentage body fat, or the risk of overweight/obesity”. However, the studies did not state if the participants were drinking juice daily.
But, according to Ed Rigg, founder of juice company EAGER, says the science behind the benefits of fruit juices has “moved on”.
“It may sound unusual for a juice company to agree with this study but we don’t think it should,” he tells Yahoo UK. “We, like most juice companies, used to think the health benefits of juice far outweighed any sugar implications, but as the science has moved on we feel it’s only right to be transparent with our consumers.
“That’s why we don’t put ‘one of your 5-a-day’ on our cartons, in fact if you look at an EAGER carton we clearly say in giant caps, ‘CONTAINS FRUIT AND THEREFORE SUGAR. IT’S A REAL TREAT. DRINK RESPONSIBLY’.
“Juice companies will continue to disingenuously say that juice is good for you, but it’s really not that innocent. If we, the juice industry, take one lesson from this study I’d really like it to be that we need to reframe juice as a delicious treat rather than a health drink.”
Healthy fruit juice alternatives
Instead of reaching for a juice box, here are some alternative ways to consume fruits that can be healthier for you, according to both Dr Hussain and Jenkins.
Eat whole fruits
“Consuming whole fruits provides fibre, which is often lacking in fruit juices, and offers a slower release of sugars into the bloodstream,” Dr Hussain says.
Flavouring water with slices or fruits, vegetables or herbs can be a refreshing and low-calorie alternative.
Instead of juicing, blending whole fruits into a smoothie gives you a more fibre-filled and nutritious drink. Jenkins adds that adding avocado, yogurt or milk can make them more satiating.
“Herbals teas are also an alternative and many are fruity and can be cooled down and had as a drink, the calories are far fewer and they are more hydrating,” Jenkins says.
Watch: 2 out of 5 look at sugar as a treat rather than a part of their diet
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