Do you start the morning with a cold cup of orange juice? For some people, breakfast isn’t complete without a glass of orange juice to wash down their eggs or oatmeal. Drinking orange juice used to be that way for us as well. We drank cartons of the golden citrus beverage each week.
For us, orange juice wasn’t just for breakfast, we drank it at other meals and between meals as well. It was our “go to” rehydration beverage. No telling how much of the fruity drink we were guzzling down. Once we became more nutritionally savvy and aware, we traded our orange juice for tea and water.
Drinking orange juice is better than drinking a soft drink, but despite its high vitamin C content, it’s not as healthy as you think. Here are 5 reasons why you should rethink your O.J. drinking habit.
Orange Juice is Loaded with Sugar
If you’re focused on lowering the amount of sugar in your diet, hide the orange juice carton. Did you know a single glass of orange juice contains 9 teaspoons of sugar? That’s as much as a sugar-sweetened soft drink. With so much concern about the amount of sugar in the American diet, make sure you’re not drinking sugar too.
The type of sugar in fruit juice is called fructose. Your body handles fructose differently than it does another simple sugar called glucose. When you drink a cup of orange juice or any other fruit juice, the fructose makes a beeline for your liver where your liver has the burden of metabolizing it.
Diets high in fructose are linked with a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver, a common condition which you can have without knowing it, and metabolic syndrome, a health problem that increases your risk for type 2-diabetes and heart disease. You can also have “silent” metabolic syndrome that later shows up as type 2-diabetes
Whether fructose is worse for you than glucose is controversial, but the reality is your body doesn’t need the amount of sugar you get from a glass of orange juice. Remember, orange juice lacks the fiber that a whole orange has. The fiber is important because it moderates the rise in blood glucose you get when you eat a food that contains carbohydrates.
100% Orange Juice Isn’t All Natural
These days, lots of orange juice manufacturers proudly offer “100% orange juice.” The glass of O.J. on the front cover looks like it’s fresh squeezed, giving you the warm fuzzy feeling that you’re drinking something healthy. Don’t be fooled.
Orange juice is pasteurized and then placed in storage for more than a year before it’s transferred into cartons and sent to your local grocery store. During that time, it loses most of its flavor.
No one wants to drink flavorless orange juice – so what do manufacturers do? They add a flavor packet to give the juice that’s been in storage for 12 months its characteristic “fresh” orange flavor.
So, you’re not tasting the natural flavor of oranges when you sip that morning glass of OJ, you’re swallowing “old” orange juice jazzed up with a concocted flavor packet that fools your taste buds into believing you’re drinking oranges.
Not Losing Weight? Drinking Orange Juice Could Be Your Sticking Point
As mentioned, orange juice is a concentrated source of sugar. Dr. A and I, when I was practicing full-time, had patients who couldn’t seem to lose weight no matter how healthy they ate.
Upon questioning them, it turns out that were drinking more than their share of “healthy” orange juice and other fruit juices. Once they cut out the juices, the weight started coming off. Of course, the same goes for soft drinks and any other sweetened beverages. The calories from these drinks add up.
If you’re drinking orange juice or other juice throughout the day, your insulin level is probably elevated more than it should be. Not only does insulin help get nutrients, like glucose and amino acids, into cells, it causes your body to store fat. Sipping fruit juice makes it harder for your body to shed fat.
If you have a hankering for fruit, eat a whole apple or orange instead. At least, you’ll have the fiber to help control your blood sugar and insulin level.
Tooth Destruction and Dental Bills
Orange juice and other fruit juices are acidic, meaning they can erode away the protective enamel that covers your teeth. If a liquid has a pH less than 5.5, meaning it’s acidic, it can damage the enamel that protects your teeth – permanently.
Orange juice has a pH in the 3 to 4 range, meaning, it most certainly can damage your pearly whites. In fact, a study showed drinking orange juice is worse for tooth enamel than tooth whitening agents made of hydrogen peroxide.
Why should you care about enamel erosion? According to one study, orange juice decreases the hardness of tooth enamel by 84%. As your tooth enamel erodes, it reveals the darker tissue underneath and your teeth start to appear yellow. Plus, the acid creates tiny pits on the surface of your teeth and your teeth become more prone towards cavities.
Unfortunately, your body can’t repair tooth erosion. That’s why protecting your teeth by reducing the amount of fruit juice and soft drinks you sip is important. If you drink a cup of juice, rinse your mouth out with water as soon as you can afterward to help preserve your tooth enamel.
Don’t forget, orange juice contains enough sugar to be damaging to your teeth as well. The bacteria that cause dental caries feel right at home in the mouth and gums of people who drink fruit juice. juice too. Cut your dental bills by nixing the O.J.
Orange Juice and Mouth Ulcers
Do you get painful mouth ulcers? The most common type are called aphthous ulcers. These painful little devils are white or yellow in appearance and are typically surrounded by a red base and THEY HURT, especially when you eat something acidic like ketchup.
Although not proven, aphthous ulcers have been linked with drinking orange juice. It’s not clear what the component in orange juice might cause the ulcerations, although the acidity could be a factor. Dr. A used to get frequent aphthous ulcers when he drank orange juice every day.
Once he stopped, guess what? The ulcers completely went away and he hasn’t had a recurrence. I used to get them too, although not as frequently. I, too, haven’t had one since I stopped drinking citrus juice.
If you’re troubled by aphthous ulcers, stop drinking all citrus juices for a few weeks and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised to find those ulcers magically disappear.
What about getting enough vitamin C? Here’s a list of other vitamin C-rich foods:
- Bell peppers
- Green, leafy vegetables
Should You Give Up Orange Juice Entirely?
Despite the fact that orange juice contains as much sugar as a soft drink, it does have redeeming qualities. You ARE getting vitamin C and oranges contain phytochemicals that offer health benefits. Juicing may have at least one health benefit over eating the whole fruit.
According to one study, you absorb more of the phytochemicals from orange juice than you do when you eat orange segments or orange puree, but this study was done in a laboratory and hasn’t been confirmed in humans.
More phytochemical absorption is a benefit, but, hopefully, you’re getting plenty of phytochemicals by eating whole fruits and veggies anyway. We don’t think the theoretical benefit of absorbing more phytochemicals outweighs the downsides of rapidly raising your blood sugar.
There is one other potential health benefit of drinking orange juice. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that overweight men who drank two glasses of orange juice daily enjoyed a significant drop in diastolic blood pressure. They also experienced improvements in other markers of heart health, including the way blood vessels function.
Why might this be? Orange juice contains a phytochemical called hesperidin that helps your blood vessels dilate more effectively.
Orange Juice and Cancer
A potential drawback we didn’t mention because it needs more research is a link between drinking citrus juice and skin cancer, including the most deadly type, malignant melanoma. This study found participants who drank more than a glass of orange juice daily had a higher incidence of malignant melanoma.
In addition, people in the study who ate grapefruit three times a day or more also had a greater risk for melanoma.
Although this might sound crazy, considering oranges have phytochemicals that would likely lower the risk of cancer, but we can’t dismiss it completely. Citrus fruits contain high levels of psoralens, compounds that suck up ultraviolet light. It’s possible that the high levels of psoralens in citrus fruits make your more sun sensitive and susceptible to mutations in skin cells that lead to cancers like melanoma.
Weigh the Pros and Cons
As you can see, there are drawbacks to drinking orange juice as well as a few benefits. We think the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. You can get many of the positive benefits of drinking orange juice by eating whole fruits and vegetables instead. Vegetables and fruits that are lower in sugar contain many healthful phytochemicals linked with heart health.
If you have blood sugars in the pre-diabetes or diabetic range, you should definitely eliminate O.J. from your diet.
If you’re otherwise healthy, you don’t necessarily have to avoid orange juice entirely. If you simply can’t live without, stick to a half cup daily. The key is to keep your serving sizes small and consider making your own orange juice with a citrus juice maker rather than buying “flavored” orange juice at the grocery store.
Substitutions for O.J.
If you’re a habitual orange juice drinker and need an alternative, why not make orange or citrus peel tea instead? Here’s how:
Be sure to use organic oranges if you try this recipe. You don’t want pesticides in your tea! Orange peel tea gives you the taste of orange without the sugar. If you like your tea sweetened, add a little Stevia or monk fruit sweetener.
If you still miss the taste of orange juice, eat a whole orange, pulp and all. Then, make sure you’re getting plenty of vegetables in your diet as well. There are so many benefits to a plant-based diet. We hope if you take anything away from this blog it’s that you need to eat your veggies.
How about you? Do you drink orange juice or other fruit juice?
Citrus: It Only Begins with C. University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter 2000; 17(1):1-2.
Shape Magazine. “What’s Healthier, Oranges or Orange Juice?”
Am J Clin Nutr. 2010; doi: 10.2945/ajcn
PubMed Health. “Orange juice and grapefruit linked to melanoma skin cancer” July 2015.