Why fruit juice is nearly as bad for you as soda

New guidelines advise cutting back on added and some natural sugars

Published: March 22, 2014 06:00 AM

Consider swapping an orange for orange juice at breakfast.

When you’re trying to cut back on sugar, avoiding soda is a no-brainer. But fruit juice, too? That’s what the World Health Organization recommends in its recently released guidelines on sugar consumption.

The new report says that everyone—children and adults—ideally should keep their intake of “free” sugars to less than 5 percent of total calories (although 10 percent is acceptable). That's 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of free sugars a day—about 100 calories worth—for someone eating a 2,000 calorie diet. Free sugar includes the sugar you and manufacturers add to food. Much of it lurks where you might suspect—candy, baked goods, ice cream, soda, and sweetened coffee and tea to name a few. But it also encompases some surprising sources, including the sugar in honey, maple syrup, fruit juice conentrate, and even fruit juice.

Read "Are Sugar Substitutes Bad For You?" for information on how artificial sweeteners affect your weight and health.

The case against fruit juice

Why should you limit fruit juice? Though it may have a healthier reputation than soda, nutritionally it’s practically the same. “It’s true that some fruit juices have vitamins and minerals, but whole fruit supplies the same nutrients, plus it has fiber, which slows your body’s absorption of the sugar,” says Linda Greene, a health and food test program leader at Consumer Reports. That's why sugars in whole fruit aren’t considered free sugars; neither are those in unflavored milk or yogurt or “sweet” vegetables like beets or butternut squash.

2 easy ways to eat less sugar

Identifying free sugars can be tricky. The Nutrition Facts labels on food only gives you the amount of total sugars in a serving. Newly proposed food label regulations recommend that the amount of sugars added to a food be listed separately from the amount that occurs naturally in the food. That willl help a lot, but it won’t include the sugars from the fruit juice you drink.

Taking two simple steps can go a long way towards helping you reduce the free sugars in your diet:

Cut back on sweet beverages. Soda, sports drinks, and fruit juices and concentrates are the leading source of free sugars in Americans’ diets. A single cup of orange juice has 20 grams of sugar—nearly all you should have in a day. The same amount of sugar-sweetened cola contains 26 grams. A 12-ounce can of cola has 40 grams, or about 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Watch out for hidden sugars. Packaged foods that you don’t think of as sweet often have sugar added to them. Think spaghetti sauce, salad dressings, ketchup, and bread. Sugar shows up in many guises on ingredient lists, for example: dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, maltodextrin, sucrose, fructose, beet sugar, and evaporated cane juice.  And keep in mind, if these sugars are among the first to be listed in the ingredients, or if there are many of them, there’s a good chance the product contains a significant amount of free sugars.

—Deborah Pike Olsen

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