We don't know much, but we are all pretty sure at this point that soda isn't the most nutritionally valuable beverage out there. Laden with empty calories and questionable chemical content, it might cut the grease when you're digging into a slice of pizza, but offers little in the way of vitamins, minerals, or health benefits of any kind.
Faced with the expansive wall of drinks at your local supermarket, you probably feel a lot better grabbing a quart of an "all-natural" smoothie, or maybe a bottle of fortified green juice in a vessel of impeccable graphic design. After all, fruit is plants, and plants are good for you. Fruit is right up there with "vegetables" in the category of "things we are supposed to eat more of." Right?
Right—fruit is great for you! But unfortunately, that bottle of juice is probably more of a one-way ticket to type-2 diabetes than an instant cleanse. That's not to mention the realities of what we thought of as fruit juice in our younger years. You mean to tell us that Capri Suns aren't fresh-squeezed?!
A new study published last week in the British Medical Journal takes a closer look at just how gnarly the sugar-bomb factor is in these juice drinks. Prepare to LOL about the realities of your smoothie.
The World Health Organization recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 25 grams of sugar each day—the equivalent of about six teaspoons. For children, the recommended maximum is just about four teaspoons of sugar.
Fruit contains natural sugars, sure. Your average Fuji apple has just 69 calories, but 12.7 grams of sugar. A can of Coke, for instance, has 44 grams of sugar—nearly 11 teaspoons worth. As you can imagine, things get ugly quick in the world of sugar intake.
Although natural sugar content in fruit can be significant, researchers in the study measured just the added sugar in 203 different varieties of commercially sold fruit juices, smoothies, and "100 percent natural juices." Typically, the added sugars were in the form of sweet syrups or honey, meaning that a quick glance at the ingredients list wouldn't necessarily raise red flags. The standard serving size for the juices was 200 milliliters, or a little less than seven ounces. All of the drinks included in the study were marketed to children.
About half of the fruit drinks contained up to or more than the daily recommended allotment of sugar in added sugar alone. Added refined sugars are more harmful to the body—and more readily absorbed—because their refining process makes them more easily digested than natural sugars, causing blood sugar levels to spike and increasing the risk of weight gain. The fiber content of fresh fruit prevents all of its sugar from being quickly absorbed into the body, but the juicing process strips the fiber out of fruit while maintaining all of that sweetness, meaning that you're still basically gulping down a sugar bomb.
According to the World Health Organization, about 41 million children worldwide are now overweight or obese. So this signifies a big problem (no pun intended).
But if you think this problem is just restricted to fruit drinks and smoothies marketed to children, chew (or sip) on this: Odwalla's classic green-tinted Original Superfood smoothie has a whopping 49 grams of sugar per bottle. Even bougie brands like cold-pressed Blueprint aren't off the hook: their cranberry blend has 51 grams of sugar in every bottle. And the Blue Goodness blend from Bolthouse Farms has 29 grams of sugar in a serving of just eight ounces—meaning that a 32-ounce bottle packs 116 grams of sugar, or nearly five times the daily recommended intake.
That's more sugar than in four Snickers bars combined. Yikes.
Study author Simon Capewell told Medical Xpress that "the sugar content of the fruit drinks, including natural fruit juices and smoothies tested, is unacceptably high … and smoothies are among the worst offenders."
While natural sugars might not be as harmful as refined sugars, you might want to start reading nutrition facts if you're making daily runs to Jamba Juice. Or give up and hit the candy aisle—in some cases, you're probably better off.