Shout it From the Rooftops: Juice is Not Natural

orange juice

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The health-impact of juice is a contentious issue. Yes, it’s full of vitamins and minerals. But it’s also full of sugar.  How much sugar?  The below graph compares the calories and sugar content in a 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Tropicana Orange Juice.  I’ve hidden the names.  Which one is the “healthy” orange juice?

Calories and Sugar Content in 12 ounces of Tropicana, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola

Give up?  12 ounces of Tropicana orange juice actually has more calories than an equal amount of Pepsi or Coca-Cola.

Calories & Sugar in 12 ounces of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Tropicana

So juice has a ton of calories, almost all of it from sugar.  And that sugar has a negative metabolic impact on your body whether it comes from a can of Coke or a glass or Pure Premium.

Even worse, liquid calories are not very filling, which means that they can easily increase your overall caloric intake.  Eat an apple or orange and you’ll be full for a while, drink a volume of juice that provides a similar amount of calories and you’ll be far less full.  This is why it’s very easy to accidentally over-consume your fruit when you take it in liquid form, as I’ve pointed out in the past.

Despite all this, when I discuss the healthiness of juice people often counter with some variation on the following statement:

“Yes, but juice is natural.

And this has always bothered me.  Because at that point the discussion is essentially over. You can tell people that your body can’t tell whether sugar is coming from a natural source, but they won’t believe you.  In fact, it took a long time before I believed it – in undergrad I happily gulped down 1 litre (~34 fluid ounces) of juice every weekday.  Whenever my roomates made fun of me for consuming so many liquid calories I used the same “natural” excuse as everyone else.

However, I recently came to an important realization:

Juice is not natural.

How is this possible?  “Natural” is an extremely relative term, but I assume that most people take it to mean “unrefined”.  And yet, juice is surprisingly refined.  For example, check out this interview with researcher and author Alissa Hamilton (emphasis mine):

Q: What would consumers be surprised to discover about orange juice?

A: The leading producers of “not from concentrate” (a.k.a. pasteurized) orange juice keep their juice in million-gallon aseptic storage tanks to ensure a year-round supply. Juice stored this way has to be stripped of oxygen, a process known as de-aeration, so it doesn’t oxidize in the tanks. When the juice is stripped of oxygen, it is also stripped of flavour-providing chemicals … If you were to try the juice coming out of the tanks, it would taste like sugar water.

Juice companies therefore hire flavour and fragrance companies, the same ones that make popular perfumes and colognes, to fabricate flavour packs to add back to their product to make it taste like orange juice.

Q: What are flavour packs?

A: Flavour packs are derived from the orange essence and oils that are lost from orange juice during processing. Flavour houses break down these essence and oils into their constituent chemicals and then reassemble the chemicals into formulations that resemble nothing found in nature. Most of the juice sold in North America contains flavour packs that have especially high concentrations of ethyl butyrate, a chemical found in orange essence that the industry has discovered Americans like and associate with the flavour of a freshly squeezed orange.

Now I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound terribly natural to me.  And let’s not forget that one of the healthiest things about fruit – fibre – is also removed through the refining process.

Even a freshly made fruit smoothie is still pretty refined when compared to the fruit itself. It takes a fair amount of energy and chopping (not to mention a fancy modern blender) to get a pineapple to the point that you can consume it through a straw.  You can think of a fruit smoothie as essentially a piece of blueberry pie in a glass – at least in the pie the blueberries aren’t liquefied (seriously – an original size strawberry raspberry banana smoothie at Jamba Juice has more calories and more sugar than a piece of homemade blueberry pie). Smoothies may be a lot less refined than Twinkies, but they’re not all that far from Nutella or peanut butter.

None of this is to say that I never drink juice – I still drink a (small) glass with breakfast most mornings.  And full disclosure: my wife made a delicious fruit smoothie for breakfast this morning (dessert with breakfast!).  But I’m now willing to recognize that it has a lot of sugar and calories, and consume it accordingly (not unlike two of my other favourites – beer and chocolate milk). And whenever possible I eat (rather than drink) my fruits and veggies.

I have a feeling this may be a contentious issue.  I look forward to the comments!


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50 Responses to Shout it From the Rooftops: Juice is Not Natural

  1. I agree that people, especially if they are trying to lose weight or stay at a healthy weight, shouldn’t drink many of their calories, but one small issue I have with your calculations is that most people don’t drink an equal amount of orange juice and soda.

    The typical serving for OJ is only about 8 ounces, which would have about 110 calories and 22g of sugar, and many people now drink more than 12oz at a time when they drink Coke or Pepsi. And getting those extra vitamins and minerals in orange juice, especially calcium and vitamin D, is a nice benefit, especially for kids who may not being drinking enough milk.

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for the comment, Vincent. I was only going by my personal experience, but growing up when I poured a glass of juice, a poured a full 12-ounce glass. And when I buy juice on the go, I usually buy and consume a 16-ounce bottle in one sitting. Those mini pop bottles are getting popular, but I can’t imagine an argument that they are a nutritious food choice – so why are juice boxes any different?

      For most kids in North America, is there any evidence that they are getting too little vitamin C? It may just be the fact that I study childhood obesity, but I’m more concerned about the impact of excess calories than I am about scurvy. And as Yoni Freedhoff has pointed out before on his blog Weighty Matters, if you were to simply fortify Coke or Pepsi with vitamins would it suddenly then be healthy? Because it would then be almost identical to orange juice. It seems like a weak justification for consuming a ton of non-satiating calories.

      Also, orange juice doesn’t generally contain Calcium or Vitamin D, does it?

      • “Also, orange juice doesn’t generally contain Calcium or Vitamin D, does it?”

        It depends on which brand and type you buy. Some, like Tropicana Healthy Kids orange juice and Minute Maid Kids+ orange juice have as much, or more vitamin D and calcium as a glass of milk.

        So I agree, we don’t generally worry about vitamin C and I wouldn’t defend drinking apple juice in the same way, but a good glass of OJ can have its benefits.

  2. Rhodia says:

    I am truly shocked by that flavour pack thing. I had no idea. This information should be available to everyone.

    • Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP says:

      It blew me away as well. But it also explains why different brands of OJ have taste distinctly different – they use different flavour packs.

      • No: are you telling me that if I took, say, 10 large oranges and used a hand crusher (you know the kind — has a large pointy thing in the middle) and extracted all the juice I could, that would be almost as healthy as if I’d eaten the pulp of the ten oranges, and like, multiple times healthier than if I’d poured an equivalent amount of “Orange juice — not from concentrate”?

        Just curious. Not that I’m going to go out and do it.

  3. Cari says:

    What about vegetable juices like traditional V8? I am sure they lose their fiber content too, but are they as unhealthy?

    When I was pregnant, I craved all things tomato and have still not lost my taste for tomato soup and tomato juice. Please tell me they are healthier than orange juice! =)

    • Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP says:

      They have less sugar and calories than orange juice, so that’s good. But traditional V8 also has a ton of sodium – about a third of your recommended daily intake in an 8-ounce bottle.

      This is a good chance to point out that I am *not* a dietitian, but any form of liquid calories would seem to fall into the “sometimes food” category. Or as our colleague Yoni Freedhoff might say, you may want to think about much much tomato juice you need to consume to be happy, and try to avoid consuming more than that amount.

  4. Cari says:

    Thanks, Travis. I had noticed the sodium content.

    It is worrisome that things we assume are less processed alternatives are actually disturbingly processed. Commercial honey has no pollen, orange juice has flavor packs, and I’m sure my V8 and tomato soups have something negative beyond sodium…

    And after reading the “Seduced by Food” article on Boing Boing this morning (, I’m having a rough food day!!

    It’s enough to make a girl want to plant a vegetable garden and shop exclusively at farmers’ markets! =)

    • Travis says:

      Thanks for the link to Boing Boing, I hadn’t seen that one yet!

      Is there any benefit to having pollen in honey? I had a buddy who grew up on a bee farm who would literally eat spoonfuls of pollen before races, but I could never get myself to try it (looked too much like earwax for my tastes). Also, this same friend once drank litres of salt water because he thought it would give him energy (surprisingly, this did not help his race performance…), which made it easier to say no to the pollen. But I’ve never heard of anyone else consuming it.

  5. Louise Steeves says:

    Excellent points raised in your article, Travis! (esp the part about fragrances! Yikes!!!)

    We met in Fredericton in Jan, when you presented at UNB. (I was the woman who had a 2 year plateau after losting 100+ lbs). In any case, I try to have a fruit and veggie smoothie every morning. For me, it’s the only way I can eat kale, spinach and collards. Just throw in some berries and protein powder (I lack it in my diet) and I’m full all morning. I know fruit is high in sugar, but…at least I’m keeping the fibre, and I don’t add additional sweetener.


    • Travis says:

      Nice to hear from you again, Louise!

      As I mentioned in response to one of the other comments, the practical questions aren’t my forte since I’m not a clinician or dietitian. And I especially wouldn’t want to suggest changing things if you’ve found something that works for you.

      My biggest problem with smoothies is when they are large enough that a person consumes more fruit/calories in one sitting than they would if the food wasn’t blended (e.g. an amount that would simply be too filling if it was consumed as a fruit salad). I’d suggest being mindful of the calories and portion size (it sounds like you already are) and speaking with a dietitian if you think you need to find another way to get those veggies.

  6. Louise Steeves says:

    No worries there…I portion them out in mason jars and freeze them for the week…tastes even better as a slushie! 😉

  7. Lorrie says:

    My mom makes a kale salad and it’s actually quite delicious. The main thing to do is massage the kale…

    massage cut up kale with olive oil and salt, add fresh lime juice mixed with honey, use red pepper if you want or feta cheese as well

    • Travis says:

      Not to get too far off topic, but we make mashed potatoes with kale (which are boiled first) that is delicious. Granted, it has a half cup of cream and a half cup of cheese in it, so I wouldn’t call it a healthy option… although like juice, it *is* delicious.

  8. Penny says:

    There’s a juice commercial that drives me crazy – a woman at a desk, eating a fruit (which makes a mess). The ad promotes the juice as a way to avoid all of the mess.

    I do enjoy my juice, but I typically only have a half glass, and my main weakness is fresh pressed apple cider from the Farmer’s market. I try make sure that I think of as an energy source. The typical tendency is to not take these calories into consideration, and we don’t reduce the amount of food we eat to compensate for the calories in beverages (see

    I also enjoy smoothies, I agree Travis, the biggest concern with a homemade smoothie would be controlling portion sizes and again, not adding it on top of a meal. I like your idea of keeping in mind how much you would eat as a fruit salad.

  9. Kelly says:

    I agree with your article, the huge downside of drinking fruit juice is that the satiety level is low. Like you mentioned, the process of making fruit juice strips it of fiber, but also the volume you’d get if you were to simply eat the piece of fruit instead. You get way more calorie bang for your buck with low density foods like an orange or an apple. I can drink 80 calories worth of orange juice in about 20 seconds and then what? I’m probably still thirsty and/or hungry. We tell our clients not to drink their calories for this very reason.

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  11. Josh Larkin says:

    Your rant should be more about moderating consumption and less an attack on juice. There’s nothing inherently bad about juice. For that matter, there’s nothing inherently bad about sugar. All carbohydrates get metabolized into fructose and glucose. Glucose is pure energy. My point is this, the problem in America’s diets isn’t with the food itself, but with the over-consumption of food. And in this matter I think juice is far from our greatest threat.

    p.s. Of course companies store large aseptic vats of OJ deprived of O2. Would you rather drink bacteria ridden or oxidized orange juice? That would be a much greater health risk. I don’t see why this is bad.

    • Travis says:

      Moderation is exactly what I’m proposing, and what I do personally (as I said, I still drink juice most days, but I’m much more conscious of the amount than I used to be). But I find that it’s much easier to consciously moderate the amount of juice if you know that it’s not the healthiest thing in the world.

      • Josh Larkin says:

        I did enjoy your September 2010 article on the same topic. I found it informative and even scientifically relevant. It just seems that, in this article, you go a bit beyond promoting moderation. The premise of your argument is that “sugar has a negative metabolic impact.” Any biochemist will tell you that sugars are a constituent component of metabolism. So how can they have a negative metabolic impact? Its kinda like saying water has a negative hydrating impact. It is simply a false statement and promotes an idea that sugars are inherently unhealthy. It’s actually (as we agree) the over-consumption of sugar beyond what our bodies need, that we should be condemning from the rooftops.

        Ultimately, thank you for bringing light to this topic.

  12. “My point is this, the problem in America’s diets isn’t with the food itself, but with the over-consumption of food.”

    How often do you hear of a person over-consuming whole fruits and vegetables and becoming overweight?

  13. Jennifer says:

    I stopped serving juice to my 8 year old son about 6 months ago. We only have water and white milk in the house. He can have juice or pop when we eat out, which in not very often. He got used to it pretty quickly. There is just no real benefit to be had from juice. He eats lots of fruit, so I don’t see any point in giving him all the extra sugar.

  14. Nora says:

    I make a potato-kale thing that has no cream or cheese – just cook a chopped onion and a leek or two in some olive oil (or if you are feeling decadent, a slice or two of bacon, or some butter), then put that in a casserole and layer sliced potatoes and kale over it; add 1-2 cups liquid (chicken or vegetable stock and/or water). Bake for an hour or so until the potatoes are soft. Stir to smash potatoes and add salt, pepper, scallions, and fresh dill. You can also add hot sauce (Tabasco or sriracha) and/or cider vinegar.

  15. Hal says:

    Thanks for the interesting article Travis. What are your thoughts on freshly squeezed orange juice (literally oranges squeezed to order

    Presumably you are getting the full nutritional and fibre benefits, with nothing added, buy still the same amount of sugar?

    • Travis says:

      Great question. I did an experiment a couple years ago to see how many oranges it takes to get a large glass of orange juice, and was shocked to find that it was the equivalent of 6 medium oranges. What’s probably more likely is that people just consume less juice, which is probably good. Details on that experiment here.

      I’m not sure that this juice would be as filling as eating the orange itself though – presumably there would still be some extra pulp that you consume when eating versus juicing (whenever I’ve juiced oranges there has been a ton of pulp leftover). So my guess is that it’s probably better than any other kind of juice, but still not quite as good as simply eating the fruit itself.

      • wilma chornopysky says:

        I totally disagree with all your theories… totally.. what is the difference if you sit and chew a piece of fruit or make a smoothie out of it.. more nonsense to you Dr travis.. or whatever your name is.. hogwash.. that is what it is.. thank you…

        • I’ll chime in for Dr. Saunders here, to save him the energy of saying what I’m going to say.

          Dr. Saunders is sorry you feel that way, Wilma. It’s quite obvious from your comment that meticulous research has gone into the studies that support your argument, and that your findings have been peer-reviewed and that the results have been published.

          Dr. Saunders and this readership would be delighted to read your findings at any address you would be kind enough to provide.

          Until then, however, we’ll just assume your contact information is

          • Travis says:

            Thanks for responding, Nicholas, although no need to do so on my behalf :)

            Wilma – there are many differences if you were to chew and spit out fruit rather than making a smoothie, which is probably one reason why it’s not such a popular activity. If you can chew and spit out as much fruit as you would consume in a smoothie, it’s going to take much more time (which means that you may feel full before finishing all the fruit), it will burn some more calories (since you’re doing the work, rather than a blender), and you’re probably not going to bother consuming as much fruit because it’s just so tiring.

    • “Presumably you are getting the full nutritional and fibre benefits, with nothing added, buy still the same amount of sugar?”

      Unlike many other whole foods, since many types of OJ are fortified with vitamin D and extra calcium, you won’t get exactly the same nutritional benefits from eating oranges vs drinking orange juice.

      You can see the nutrition facts for a medium orange – about 60 calories, 3g of fiber, 12g or sugar, and 5% DV calcium.

      To use fewer oranges when making fresh orange juice, you might try using an automatic juicer instead of a hand juicer.

      I grew up in South Texas and we had an orange tree and tangerine tree in our backyard and we would often have fresh squeezed OJ and eat the fruit off the tree. I have never really been able to drink store bought OJ since.

  16. John Ellis says:

    I’m a physician and used to drink 1-2 quarts of grapefruit juice a day. I completely stopped. I eat fruit now in between meals when hungry.
    I’m 130 lbs lighter today (yes, I exercise, including weight training; have regularized meals; eat 1-2 lbs green veggies every day.)
    Some of my blog posts about juice:

  17. Shoot. It’s only within the past few months or so that I’ve discovered how bad orange juice is for you. Great time to quit drinking alcohol! Which I did, Feb. 1st, after thirty-five years of drinking every day, frequently to excess.

    I’m quitting with a few friends, not with any program, and it’s going excellently. But I’ve always been, since childhood, someone who likes to have a glass of something in hand pretty much all day. And sorry, water doesn’t do the trick.

    After stopping alcohol, I’ve been drinking .05% “wine” coolers (like “near-beer’) during the day, and half orange juice/half Perrier in the evenings — and the orange juice is marketed as having half the sugar and half the calories.

    Now I’m trying to attack my blood sugar intake. For two weeks I’m doing everything normally — eating carbs, drinking the aforementioned things, eating cake and whipped cream after dinner — and taking my blood sugar every few hours. On Thursday I will start two weeks of no sugar — I will revert to only mineral water, no sugar-tea and coffee, no sweets, and as few carbs as possible. I will see how my blood sugar behaves.

    When I eat, I only eat one meal a day — I can’t help it, I have a very small appetite (so do the rest of my family) so weight is not my problem, sugar is. Wish me luck in my quest. I was very worried this morning after taking my blood sugar — it was 16.3 — after a fasting of 8 hours. Then again, last night I pigged out on capellini and then a large ice cream dessert, so that might explain things . . . I swear I’m not diabetic and I’m going to prove it!

    Wish me luck, and keep up all the info!

  18. jimmy says:

    You forgot a major health difference.

    Soft drinks use higher GI sugars (sucrose, high fructose corn syrup etc), whereas juice, although high calorie as well, is sweetened with fruit sugars (fructose) which have a lower GI.

    Both drinks are high calorie, but given that the sugars in soft drink are far worse for your body (higher sugar/insulin spikes), juice is likely the healthier choice.

  19. Jim Birch says:

    Fructose has a lower GI because it has to be metabolised in the liver, unlike glucose which can can enter the blood stream and be used directly by cells. Excess fructose can result in liver problems: “The livers of the rats on the high-fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics.”

    OTOH Fructose has the advantage that it tastes sweeter so a lower calorie density gives an equivalent perceived sweetness.

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  22. Rebecca says:

    It seemed that you wrote exclusively about commercially produced juice. What about freshly squeezed orange juice made at home and consumed right away? Maybe it doesn’t have everything that the fruit has, but isn’t it different from the commercial products? I love and drink freshly squeezed O.J. just about every day.

    • Travis says:

      (pasted from previous comment above)

      Great question. I did an experiment a couple years ago to see how many oranges it takes to get a large glass of orange juice, and was shocked to find that it was the equivalent of 6 medium oranges. What’s probably more likely is that people just consume less juice, which is probably good. Details on that experiment here.

      I’m not sure that this juice would be as filling as eating the orange itself though – presumably there would still be some extra pulp that you consume when eating versus juicing (whenever I’ve juiced oranges there has been a ton of pulp leftover). So my guess is that it’s probably better than any other kind of juice, but still not quite as good as simply eating the fruit itself.

  23. Epicurea says:

    this is a really good visual to see the calories and sugar content of sodas and orange juice compared next to each other, otherwise you wouldn’t believe it. liquid calories seem to be one of the root causes of the obesity epidemic, so being more conscious about juice is very important. thanks!

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  26. Sante says:

    My dentist enphasizes every time I have a checkup never to drink freshly pressed orange juice or any drink containing carbondioxyde, as they destroy effectively your teeth — apart from destroying your body by carbohydrates. Even bubbling mineral water is to blame, according to her.

  27. walter says:

    As always, the problem is not the amount of energy in food. The problem is not burning it. I drink about half a liter of juice every morning, exactly because of the described effect of not feeling full. It supplies an important part of the energy I need to ride to work on my bicycle.

    • Travis says:

      The problem is whatever is causing a positive energy balance (e.g. energy in > energy out). For some people it’s lack of PA, for some it’s excess caloric intake. But if you’re looking for ways to reduce that caloric imbalance, reducing caloric intake is generally easier (it can take a LOT of hard physical activity to burn off one large glass of juice…). Not everyone is so fortunate (or willing) to bike to work everyday.

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  29. Phil says:

    I think the better point is that people need to let go of the idea that natural=healthy. Yes, as a general rule, foods which are less processed and refined are better for you than those that aren’t, but that’s hardly a universal truth. The world is full of things which are 100% natural that are very, very bad for us. Very little we eat is especially natural anyway…agriculture itself is unnatural.

  30. charlie says:

    “The health-impact of juice is a contentious issue. Yes, it’s full of vitamins and minerals. But it’s also full of sugar.”
    Are you sure it’s full of vitamins and minerals? According to it has a ton of vitamin C, but not much else. Maybe calcium if it’s been fortified, but that’s not much different from just taking a calcium pill every day. And getting vitamin C is really easy, since it gets added to so many foods- it’s basically the one vitamin that every American gets more than enough of.