Skip the Sip: Why you should keep the fruit but ditch the juice

Juice seems to be everywhere in the American diet, from apple juice at kids’ snack time to orange juice on every breakfast table.  While I love the taste of juice as much as the next guy, when it comes to health, I know that choosing an actual fruit is the way to go. (and yes, this includes 100% fruit juice).

Here’s the deal: nature packages fruit in the perfect way by combining sugar with tons of fiber.  Yes, you’re consuming some simple sugars, but by slowly consuming it along with slow-digesting fibers, you also slow down glucose absorption and minimize blood sugar spikes. When we instead take a fruit, squeeze out the sweet juice, and discard all of that wonderful fiber, we wind up absorbing way more sugar in a fraction of the time.  This leads to blood sugars that climb too quickly and go far above the desired limit. If you have pre-diabetes, diabetes, or insulin resistance, this is exactly the type of sugar overload you want to avoid.

A large orange, for example, has ~15 grams of sugar mixed in with 4.5 grams of fiber, and it will probably take a while to eat. Your standard 12 ounce single-serving bottle of orange juice, on the other hand, has about 35 grams of sugar and no fiber– and most of us could drink that in a few minutes!  Think about what a difference that makes for your blood sugar spikes.

Here are my tips for avoiding the fruit juice sugar spike:

  • If you just can’t kick the craving for juice, try diluting it to cut the sugar. Mix with water for a milder flavor, or try mixing with seltzer for a bubbly alternative.
  • Don’t be fooled by the healthy sound of “100% fruit juice”– although they may be pure natural juice, they are still incredibly high in sugar.
  • There are lower-sugar juice available on the market if you’re comfortable consuming non-nutrative sweeteners (aka artificial sweeteners without calories). Always check the label, though, to see just how much lower the total carbohydrates (which includes sugar) will be.
  • If you’re used to drinking juice with certain meals/snacks, try substituting it with fruit if cutting it out cold turkey sounds too ambitious.  If you like juice with breakfast, swap it for a small fruit cup, add berries to your pancakes or cereal, or slice up an orange for that same OJ flavor. If you usually choose juice for something sweet on the go, try a more portable fruit like grapes, clementines, or apples.
  • Juice can actually be a better alternative than other sweeteners if you’re using it as an ingredient in place of table sugar or corn syrup, as you will still get some vitamins and minerals from juice but not from straight sugar. Try substituting a 100% fruit juice concentrate like apple or grape for granulated sugar in your baked goods, keeping in mind that the sugar content may be similar but the nutritive value is a bit better.  You’ll likely need ~6oz juice for every 1 cup of sugar, and a bit less liquid as even juice concentrate contributes liquid.