Is Juice Really Worse Than Soda?

Juicing that fruit strips away its fiber and many nutrients. An apple is medium-sugar impact, but juice it -- strip its fiber and nutrients -- and it becomes a high-sugar-impact fructose bomb.
07/07/2015 11:39 am ET Updated Jul 07, 2016

"Apple juice is worse for you than soda," I declared on social media recently, unleashing a torrent of comments that I was being sensationalistic or overstating my case. Others expressed confusion about why fruit juice, which often parades around in grocery stores with an undeserved health halo, could really be so bad.

Consider the difference between a carrot and carrot juice, an orange and orange juice. You wouldn't sit down and eat four oranges, but you could easily consume that amount in a glass of OJ.

"When fruit is stripped of its skin, pulp, flesh and other fibrous parts, it's distilled down to its sweet essence," writes Corrie Pikul. "That means that orange juice has roughly the same amount of sugar as the demon of the nutritional world, soda -- about 5 to 8 teaspoons per cup."

Registered Dietitian Beth Warren agrees. "Juice is liquid, so it doesn't have to go through as much processing before it hits your bloodstream, where it can spike your sugar levels," she says. "Truthfully, you should give up fruit juice."

Why would juice become worse? While you're getting equal amounts of total sugar, juice contains more overall fructose. Whereas high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) sweetened sodas are about 55 percent fructose, fruit juices are almost pure liquid fructose bombs.

While nearly every cell can use glucose, only your liver processes fructose. "Fructose breaks down in your liver and doesn't provoke an insulin response," writes Joy Dubost, R.D. "Glucose starts to break down in the stomach and requires the release of insulin into the bloodstream to be metabolized completely."

That fructose surge becomes bad news for your liver and overall health.

"Research shows that it's the fructose part of sweeteners that's the most dangerous," writes Dr. Jonny Bowden. "Fructose causes insulin resistance and significantly raises triglycerides (a risk factor for heart disease). It also increases fat around the middle which in turn puts you at greater risk for diabetes, heart disease and Metabolic Syndrome (aka pre-diabetes). And fructose has been linked to non-alcoholic, fatty-liver disease."

But wait, you say: Even though that fruit juice contains more fructose than a soda, that fructose is naturally occurring. How bad could it really be?

Again, consider the source. Fruit and some vegetables contain fructose, but they also come wrapped up in ￯ᆲチber and bundled with nutrients. When fructose is delivered to us that way, things change for the better -- our digestion slows down, we burn some energy extracting the fructose, and fructose moseys to our liver in a steady stream rather than a torrent.

"Unless you just eat massive amounts of fruit, fructose shouldn't become a problem," writes Dr. Mark Hyman. "When you eat fruit, the amount of fructose you ingest is significantly lower than in sweetened beverages, and the metabolic effects of it are different because the increased intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants helps slow absorption and improve metabolism."

Juicing that fruit strips away its fiber and many nutrients. An apple is medium-sugar impact, but juice it -- strip its fiber and nutrients -- and it becomes a high-sugar-impact fructose bomb.

Besides, with its healthy aura, you're more likely to guzzle second or third glasses of juice, whereas you would think twice about reaching for another cola.

So pass on the soda and the juice. An easy way to ditch them both: Steep lemon, lime, or orange in filtered water. Pomegranate iced green tea sweetened with pure organic stevia also becomes a smart choice.

What's one food or drink you once thought healthy but now consider otherwise? Share yours below.