Is Cola really as healthy as fruit juice?

  • Sorry, I’m going to disagree with the papers again
  • Cola versus fruit juice. What’s the truth?
  • Revealed, the safe amount of fruit juice to drink

The other day I was out with the dog.

I decided to take a shortcut through some woods behind the houses.

Now, I don’t know if you do any dog walking…

But one of the things you almost always find when you go off-piste through woods, fields and waste grounds is what I call a ‘party space’.

It’s usually a little clearing filled with plastic bottles and cans, wrappers and carrier bags. Signs that youngsters sneak to this spot to hang out, have a crafty cigarette and do whatever young people do these days.

I never see human beings in these places…

I never catch the tail end of these little gatherings…

So I can only assume they happen in the dead of night when old fogeys like myself are tucked up in bed dreaming about cake.

Anyway, I find quite a few of these rubbishy-strewn hotspots on my walks and here’s one thing I notice…

Many of the bottles and cans have contained booze…

Many of the bottles and cans have contained Coke, Sprite, Lilt, Lucozade and other types of fizzy pop…

Many have contained high caffeine energy drinks like Monster or Red Bull…

But what very few, if any, have contained is fresh fruit juice.

Your average young person is not clamouring for freshly pressed apple juice, or a kale and kiwi smoothie, nor a pulpy orange juice.

They’re generally knocking bag sugary fizzy drinks.

When I used to take my kids for pub lunches, it wasn’t fresh pineapple juice that they were constantly nagging me for, it was Coke and lemonade.

These are the readily available – and CHEAP – soft drinks that fill the shelves.

I’d say these were far more of an issue than fruit juice when it comes to the problem of people consuming too much sugar.

But we’ve had a spate of articles warning of the dangers of fruit juice.

Here was The Express:

“Experts claim ‘fruit juice is as bad for health as cola’.”

The sub-headline explained that fruit juice was just as likely to lead to an early death as drinking cola or lemonade.

I read versions in The Telegraph, Times and The Sun, and I’m sure it was in the rest too.

Can’t beat a good, shocking headline like that for getting clicks to your website or sales for your paper.

And look, I’m not going to dispute the fundamental science here, which showed that two big problems from drinking sugary drinks were obesity and increased insulin resistance, leading to diabetes.

While most people assume that fruit juice is full of healthy sugars and fizzy pop full of bad sugars, the reality is that the sugars work in similar ways.

Here’s what the researchers said:

“The nutrient content of 100-percent fruit juices and SSBs [sugar sweetened beverages] is very similar.

Although the sugar in SSBs is added during processing and the sugar in 100-per-cent fruit juice occurs naturally, the specific sugars they provide for the body to process are essentially the same and the biochemical response when metabolised is the same.”

Which you could interpret as saying that a glass of Coke in the morning is no worse than a glass of orange juice.

But really?

I’m going to stick my neck out here and argue against all the papers on this, but is it really helpful to suggest that this is the case? Is fruit juice the enemy?

Clearly, drinking too much fruit juice is going to lead to sugar-related health problems. And it’s worth pointing out to people that it’s not good for you if you have too much.

But do people generally buy a carton of fresh, pressed juice and guzzle the whole thing in a few hours?

Is it what young people are addicted to drinking?

When I discover rubbish heaps full of discarded drink containers, are they full of fresh juices?


I had a look at the original report these articles are based on and, to summarise, it says that the fact that sugar in fruit is natural and simple it still gets metabolised by the body in the same way that more complex added sugars do, so the resulting ‘sugar load’ is comparable.

However, what the report also notes is that drinking moderate amounts of fruit juice actually reduces cardiovascular problems, lowers risk of stroke and helps reduce cognitive decline.

So how much is a ‘moderate’ amount?

Revealed, the safe amount of fruit juice to drink

Findings from a European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition study have shown that moderate consumption of 100% fruit juice (less than 7 five-oz glasses per week) was associated with 17% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 24% lower risk of stroke.

Agreeing with that, the UK recommendation is that a 150ml glass of fruit juice counts as one of you five-a-day.

Even one of the experts behind the research said:

“There is no suggestion one glass a day is problematic.”

So you see, you can get some health benefits from drinking one glass of fruit juice a day…

And in my experience, that is what most folk have.  A glass of fresh juice for breakfast.

Compare that to a glass of fizzy pop, which has pretty much no nutritional value.

Now the picture seems a bit less dramatic doesn’t it?

Then there are also the artificial sweeteners in soft drinks (even some of the non-diet ones) that aren’t in fresh fruit juice, and which have been associated with long-term health problems.

The upshot is this…

If you are consuming a litre of fruit juice a day then you might well have issues with sugar, and you really need to cut down dramatically.

Try sparkling water, mineral water or a naturally fermented drink like kombucha instead.

But if you want to have a soft drink with your lunch, dinner or breakfast, then a fruit juice is healthier than fizzy pop, no matter what the papers have led us to believe.

And if we want to point the finger at substances that are causing obesity and ill health, then I’d say attacking fruit juice is silly when by far the biggest issue is readily available, cheap sugary fizzy pop, especially for the younger generations.

That’s my tuppence-worth anyway!