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Why You Should Avoid Orange Juice

Although orange juice is a common part of the American breakfast, it’s not a great way to start the day.

Not only is such a breakfast low in protein and good fat, but it’s also very high in carbohydrates, much of which are highly processed.

The most popular fruit juice is still orange juice, with more than 25% of the population drinking it at least three times per week.[i]

That single choice, however, can have major implications on your health - and not for the better. One intriguing study observed some surprising effects of drinking orange juice with breakfast. Investigators compared a standard breakfast with orange juice or water as the beverage, and analyzed the effects each had on lipid profiles and fat utilization.[ii]

Any fruit juice contains a high concentration of sugar. Even though the juice may be squeezed from fruit, the effects the concentrated juice has on the body are quite different from what happens when consuming a piece of whole fruit.

The processing that store-bought juice goes through is much more than simply squeezing the juice out of fruit. According to the US Dietary Guidelines, fruit juice is acceptable as a “serving” of fruit, leaving many people feeling they’ll get similar benefits from drinking juice as they would from eating whole fruit. And since so many people look for convenience, it’s easy to understand why they pick fruit juice over whole fruit.

Fruit juice contains both fructose and glucose. Fructose does not have much of an impact on raising blood sugar because of the way it is metabolized by the liver, but it may lead to a variety of health concerns, including elevated triglyceride levels and development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Glucose raises blood sugar levels, which increases insulin secretion and, over time, can help contribute to insulin resistance. Though some people may think drinking fruit juice in moderation is okay, the study shows that drinking it has an immediate effect on one’s metabolism, which should make you think twice about adding it to your nutrition plan.

The Study

Participants in the study were fed a breakfast quite different from the breakfast we’d recommend for people. It included one serving of cereal with 2% milk and one serving of cream cheese on one-half of a toasted plain bagel.

This was a crossover study, meaning the same group was fed on two different occasions. On one occasion, they were fed the breakfast mentioned, along with tap water to drink. On the other occasion, the water was replaced with two cups (500 mL) of orange juice.

The breakfast food itself was bad enough without the OJ, supplying 55 grams of carbohydrate, but when the orange juice was added, the breakfast meal totaled a whopping 106 grams of carbohydrates. Though that sounds like a lot (and is), it’s a common choice for millions of Americans.

Study Findings

The breakfast that included orange juice contained an additional 51 grams of carbohydrates. The feeling of hunger following both meals was the same. This means that even though the breakfast with orange juice contained more calories and a lot more carbohydrates, these extra calories did not signal the body to eat less following the meal. Sugary foods often do little to curb appetite, so people may eat a lot more without feeling like they’ve done so.

Another interesting effect was that HDL cholesterol (protective cholesterol) was lower after the breakfast that included the orange juice. Also, for the adults in the study, plasma free fatty acids (fatty acids used for fuel) were reduced. Additionally, triglycerides and VLDL (small, dense) cholesterol were much higher after the breakfast with orange juice. Finally, fat utilization after the breakfast with orange juice was reduced by about 30%!

To summarize, following the breakfast with the orange juice, study participants saw a reduction in fat burning (or increased reliance on sugar for energy), lowered HDL cholesterol, and increased triglycerides and VLDL cholesterol.

Additional Thoughts

There were a couple of flaws in the study. The study did not maintain the same calorie levels between the two breakfasts. Orange juice added a couple hundred more calories to the breakfast meal, so we can’t say the change in lipids and fat utilization was because of the orange juice itself, or simply because of the increased carbohydrates consumed.

It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if a third breakfast had been served. In the third breakfast option, participants could have been fed a larger amount of cereal or the other half of the bagel, which would have also increased the carbohydrate content. In all likelihood, the issue is the higher amount of carbohydrate, and it probably wouldn’t have mattered if it came from the orange juice, or extra cereal or more of the bagel.

Also, it would have been wise to compare the baseline breakfast in this study against a healthier, lower-carb and higher-protein breakfast. More than likely, the fat utilization and lipid parameters would have been further improved by avoiding the bagel and cereal all together, and replacing them with an omelet and water, tea or coffee.

If you have the habit of drinking fruit juice with breakfast, consider making a change. Although there are some vitamins in a typical glass of juice, the amount of sugar isn’t much different than you'd get drinking soda. Like many of the foods in our diets, orange juice goes through more processing than most people realize. A piece of whole fruit would be much healthier. A lower-carb, higher-protein breakfast would be even better.

If you want to be a fat-burning machine, skip the juice. Instead, drink water, coffee, tea and some full-fat milk (if you tolerate dairy) to round out a healthy first meal of your day.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Are you interested in more tips for breakfast or other meals of the day? 

Written By Tom Nikkola - Former Director of Nutrition and Weight Management

[i] Florida Citrus Growers. IPSOS Orange Juice Segmentation Study. The Richards Group 2009.

[ii] Stookey JD, Hamer J, Espinoza G, et al. Orange Juice Limits Postprandial Fat Oxidation after Breakfast in Normal-Weight Adolescents and Adults. Adv.Nutr. 3: 629S-635S. 2012

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


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Reader Comments (5)

Fruit and Vegetables are good for you. You should still get 5 servings of them per day. If you drink 100% OJ, there is nothing wrong with that. It is soooo bad for you not to consumer any fruits/veggies and live on the high protein diet they are recommending. Stop it America! Just stop it. Eat healhty balanced meals, and you will be healthy.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNS

This was a topic discussed on the SCAN listserv. These are not my words below, but I can't state it any better than this. Please see below. This is ridiculous!! Thanks! Abby Ludwig RD, LD

"Drinking OJ inhibits post-meal fat burning...Big deal! Why is this surprising? The body is always burning a combination of CHO, fat and protein; the ratio changes according to what is most available at the time, with CHO being the preferred (most easily metabolized) fuel. So if more CHO is available at a given time, it will likely be preferentially burned over fat AT THAT TIME. It's the same principle as consuming CHO for glycogen sparing, or protein sparing. However, if total kcal consumption and output for the day is equal in both test conditions, at some point during the day the kcal stored as fat earlier in the day will be accessed and burned as fuel when needed. Whoever did this study is not looking at the big picture, and is making too much out the RQ immediately following a meal. The data is kind of interesting, but not at all surprising... and isn't that meaningful. To put it into context, design a study with isocaloric diets that has OJ vs. water in breakfast and track changes in wt and body comp (or performance if you like) over time. THAT information may actually have meaning and application! Don't be mislead by these studies that dissect metabolism by the hour; they take things our of context and lead to inaccurate extrapolations. Healthy Regards,"

Sally Hara, MS, RD, CSSD, CDE
Registered Dietitian
Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics
Certified Diabetes Educator

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAbby Ludwig

The point isn't that you shouldn't eat fruit-- it's that you shouldn't just drink the JUICE of the fruit, as opposed to eating an orange or apple. Also, that the juice most Americans pick up at the store is highly processed-- again, that's something you avoid if you eat an orange. You have no idea how long ago it was squeezed, and boiled down, and frozen, and transported from some unknown country; and then you may leave it in your own fridge, opened, for a surprisingly long time before you finish it. Have an ORANGE instead!

Personally, I also avoid freshly-squeezed orange juice in restaurants-- in all the years I worked in the hotel/restaurant trade, I never saw anyone WASH the oranges in the boxes they were pouring (whole) into the industrial orange juicer. I would just assume that any glass of juice you get with your lovely $25 brunch includes whatever pesticides, anti-fungal sprays, dyes etc. was sprayed on those unwashed oranges.

Save orange juice for a special occasion, just as you should any other soft drink.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Jette

@NS: You can't compare fruit juice to whole fruit. Drinking a glass of orange juice is not the same as eating a whole orange.
@Abby: Sally is minimizing the effect of the juice. The body has to use carbs for fuel any time you eat (or dink) them in order to help maintain blood glucose levels. Just because it "can" burn them doesn't mean it "should." Eating fat and protein does not affect glucose, or triglycerides in the same way as sugar does. Eating fat and protein actually lowers hunger levels, the opposite of what sugar does once insulin levels rise. Even worse is the fact that most people don't do this just "once in a while." They start their day with cereal and orange juice, then find a starchy snack to bring their blood sugar back up a couple hours later, followed by a starchy lunch...and on goes the cycle.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

Yes, of course satiety is prolonged with protein and fat intake. And of course eating whole fruit is going to be more beneficial. The point I should have initially focused on is along the lines of the lay person hearing about these studies and taking it out of context. The amount consumed, other breakfast choices, and overall portions play a major role. It's dangerous to pick out one item and focus on it being the negative. I appreciate the dialogue. And I will continue to drink my 4fo of OJ and enjoy it :)

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAbby Ludwig

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