Is orange juice good or bad for you?

Orange juice, one of the most well known fruit drinks to have with breakfast. Americans drink billions of litres of the stuff every year. It goes well with 2 scrambled eggs and a slice of toast. There is no doubt about it – orange juice is one of the most delicious drinks out there and can either be drunk on its own or mixed with other beverages. But is drinking it good for you or is it unhealthy?

Types of orange juice

There are 3 main varieties of orange juice, concentrated, freshly squeezed and homemade.

Concentrated

This type of orange juice is prepared by adding the concentrate to a glass and then adding water to it. Alternatively, it comes readily diluted and will say “from concentrate” on the label. Concentrated orange juice is usually the cheapest of the three and is made by taking orange juice, pasteurizing and filtering it and then evaporated away excess water to produce a more concentrated version of the drink. The processing that it goes through can denature some of the nutrients that it contains and also affect the flavour.

Freshly squeezed

This type of orange juice is made from fresh oranges, on an industrial scale. Because of people’s preferences, there are two types – with pulp and without pulp. With pulp varieties retain most of the fiber that oranges naturally come with whereas without pulp get rid of it.

Even though this type of orange juice is healthier than concentrated forms, it does undergo processing such as pasteurization. In order to maintain a standard taste between different batches of oranges, sugar and flavourings are sometimes added. Also, the juice might be held in large oxygen depleted tanks for more than a year, which leads to loss of flavour, requiring additional flavouring to be added.

When purchasing manufactured orange juice, it is important to read nutritional labels so that you know what exactly is in it. Even pricey and high quality versions of packaged orange juice tend to be very different nutritionally from the kind you would make at home.

Homemade

And finally homemade orange juice. You need around two to four oranges to make a cup of it. Homemade orange juice that is squeezed straight from a ripe orange (with no added sugar) is the healthiest out of all 3 because it retains all of the beneficial nutrients. Keeping the pulp in has added benefit since it provides extra dietary fiber.

Nutritional values

The nutritional values of all these types of orange juice varies, depending on the brand and how they are made. In general however, a one cup serving tends to contain a 100 or so calories, 20 g of sugar, hardly any fat and 2 g of protein. The fiber and vitamin C content varies greatly, depending on how the juice is processed and whether the pulp is left in.

Here is the nutritional information for 1 cup of orange juice:

Calories 111
Fat 0.5 g
Cholesterol 0
Sodium 2 mg
Carbohydrates 26 g
Fibre 0.5 g
Sugar 21 g
Protein 1.7 g

The benefits of drinking orange juice

1 cup of orange juice provides you with 207% of your daily requirement of vitamin C, 19% of folate, 15% of thiamin, 14% of potassium and 10% of vitamin A.

Vitamin C is important for a wide range of functions in the body. It boosts immune function, can treat allergies, helps heal burns & wounds and maintains healthy gums. One important thing to note however is that contrary to popular belief, oranges and orange juice are not the best source of vitamin C.

When compared weight for weight, other foods outnumber its vitamin C content by far. For example using this tool, you will see that greens like kale and parsley contain more than twice the amount of vitamin C that an orange does.

Potassium has benefits related to the heart and vitamin A protects eye health. Again, there are better sources of both potassium and vitamin A.

A number of studies have investigated the benefits that drinking orange juice can bring.

This study involved 24 healthy but overweight men aged 50 – 65. They drank either 500 ml of orange juice, a control drink with hesperidin (CDH) or a control drink with a placebo (CDP). Hesperidin is a flavonoid that is found in citrus fruits such as oranges. The study found that after 4 weeks, diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) was significantly lower after the consumption of orange juice or CDH than it was after the consumption of CDP, with orange juice having a larger effect.

This study involved 16 healthy men and 9 healthy women with elevated levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. They drank 1, 2 or 3 cups of 250 ml orange juice over a period of 4 weeks. This was followed by a 5 week period where they didn’t consume orange juice. It was found that the consumption of 750 ml of orange juice daily increased HDL (good) cholesterol concentrations by 21% and decreased the LDL : HDL cholesterol ratio by 16%.

This study carried out by researchers at the University of Reading involved 37 adults with an average age of 67 drinking 500 ml of orange juice over an 8 week period. The study states that drinking orange juice lead to an 8% improvement in global cognitive function after consumption. However it is also important to note that the NHS stated that the study did not provide conclusive evidence.

The potential downsides of drinking orange juice

One of the biggest problems with orange juice is that it is fairly high in calories. A 330 ml serving of Coca Cola contains 139 calories and 35 g of sugar. A 330 ml serving of orange juice contains around 150 calories and 34 g of sugar. So in essence, they are almost equal in terms of the calories and sugar that they contain. This can be problematic for people who are trying to manage their weight.

When you want to lose or control your weight, you need to keep a close eye on the number of calories you are consuming. In general, a calorie deficit leads to weight loss whereas a calorie surplus leads to weight gain. If someone is trying to follow a 1500 calorie diet, a 330 ml serving of orange juice would contribute to 10% of their daily calorie needs. A glass of water on the other hand would contribute to 0%. Studies have shown that the consumption of liquid calories has less of an effect on appetite suppression than consuming solid or semi solid calories, which could result in you overeating.

The sugar content of orange juice is also high. The consumption of excessive sugar leads to dramatic rises and dips in insulin levels, which can leave you feeling hungry and causing you to overeat. In lean, healthy and active people, this should not cause a problem but for those who are overweight, excessive consumption of sugar can lead to insulin resistance and added weight gain.

Drinking a glass of orange juice is quite different from eating an orange. Eating the orange requires chewing, and also the sugar is bound with fibrous material that is broken down slowly during digestion. Orange juice on the other hand is in liquid form and is digested very quickly, causing sugar to be absorbed much faster.

It is also quite acidic and can cause damage to your teeth. Your teeth are covered in enamel which protects them from decay. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body, however orange juice is able to slowly wear it away, decreasing its hardness and increasing its roughness. In fact a study found that over periods of long exposure, it decreased enamel hardness by up to 84%.

The high sugar content of orange juice does not help matters much. Dentists suggest that people who sip acidic drinks slowly are more likely to suffer from tooth erosion because their teeth are in contact with the drink for a longer period of time. Drinking through a straw could help minimise the amount of contact orange juice has with your teeth.

Finally, another study found that orange juice consumption was linked to melanoma skin cancer. This is thought to be because of psoralens, compounds that are found in citrus fruits. They can make your skin more sensitive to light exposure.

The study analysed data obtained from more then 100,000 individuals and it was found that high consumption of grapefruit and orange juice (though to a lower extent) was associated with a higher risk of melanoma, the rarest but most serious type of skin cancer.

The researchers said that you can carry on consuming citrus fruits and orange juice, however they highly recommend wearing sunscreen and protecting yourself from intense sunlight after doing so.

Bottom line

The kind of orange juice that you drink plays an important role in determining whether it provides any nutritional benefit or not. I would recommend that you make your own at home. This can be easily done using a few fresh oranges and an orange juice extractor. Be sure to leave in the fiber and don’t add any extra sugar to it.

It is important to drink orange juice in moderation because it is high in sugar and calories, both of which don’t do your waistline any favours. If you are trying to lose weight, I would suggest that you avoid it entirely, and drink water or teas. You can get your vitamins and minerals from green vegetables instead.

After drinking the juice, drink a little bit of water to wash away any tiny bits that are stuck to your teeth.

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