Fruit juice gained popularity as a "healthy" alternative to flavored drinks such as soda due to its reputation for containing a high concentration of vitamins and antioxidants. However, after taking a closer look at the way fruit is metabolized in the body and in the digestive system, fruit juices could be doing more harm than good to our health. Here's why:
1. We process fruit differently than animals do.
Animals designed to eat high-fruit diets, such as birds and orangutans, have specialized digestive systems that allow the slow digestion of fruits. This allows the simple sugars found in fruit to be fermented into more complex carbohydrates in their bodies. So despite eating a diet high in fruit, animals such as orangutans metabolize very little of the simple sugars.
In contrast, our digestive system has a relatively shorter colon. This means that our gut bacteria aren’t evolved for the slower digestive processes required for a diet high in fruit. Our digestive system is designed for smaller-quantity, higher-nutrient-density foods, such as cooked foods and animal products. When we eat fruit, our digestive system sweeps the simple sugars into our blood stream.
2. Juicing strips the sugars from fruit out of their natural casing.
In nature, sugar is locked up tight by the structure and biology of the plant world. Simple carbohydrates are encased by complex carbohydrate cellulose walls. When we flood our system with simple sugars, it causes an imbalance in our gut bacteria to favor faster metabolizing microbes. The result is that juice will cause an imbalance in our gut microbes. This is known to be related to digestive conditions like irritable bowel disease and intestinal permeability, which is now being linked to immune system dysfunction.
3. Juicing delivers a tsunami of sugar with only some of the benefits.
Sugar’s solubility in liquid means that in a simple 12-ounce serving of orange juice, you’ll be delivering up to 7 to 8 teaspoons of sugar. As you can imagine, it's far easier to gulp down a glass of orange juice than munch on 7 teaspoons of table sugar.
While juice might deliver a dose of water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C, the amount of sugar in it means that you’re better off getting the vitamin C from a vegetable with much less sugar!
4. Sugar in fruit juice can cause the same health problems as drinking too much soda.
It’s a common misconception that fruit sugar is "healthy sugar." While the body is designed to metabolize glucose, many fruit juices will contain a high level of fructose, which can be metabolized only in the liver. As a result, an overload of fructose can result in fatty liver disorder.
This high concentration of sugar might also result in the same conditions that we relate to consumption of other sugary drinks, such as tooth decay, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cognitive decline.
5. Skip the juice and go for whole fruit instead.
Unlike our orangutan friends, humans should enjoy fruit in moderation (two to three servings per day). As an alternative, you should drink water, milk, or tea.