Is Orange Juice More Nutritious?

New research challenges the assumption that fruit trumps juice

Orange Juice
the food passionates/Corbis

Call it fruit essentialism: it’s common knowledge that fruit juice is less nutritious than just eating the piece of fruit itself. Or is it? New research is reviving this debate—about drinking orange juice, at least.

NPR’s Maria Godoy reports on a new study that goes against the common assumption that sugary, fiber-free juice isn’t nutritious. When a team of Saudi and German scientists looked at different ways of consuming oranges, whether whole, pulpy or juiced, they noticed significant similarities no matter what the form.

“[Researchers] analyzed the fruit in three forms: peeled segments, a mashed-up puree and as juice, both fresh-squeezed and pasteurized,” says Godoy. “They found that levels of vitamin C and carotenoids were basically the same in the juice and the unprocessed fruit, while levels of flavonoids were significantly lower.” (Cartenoids and flavonoids are both nutrients that are found in plants and are, as a rule, good for humans.) 

What the researchers found next was even more striking: when they ran digestion-like tests on the juice, it released even more carotenoids—39.5 percent in pasteurized juice and 28 percent in unpasteurized juice, compared to just 11 percent in the fruit itself. That’s big news, because carotenoids don’t just give oranges their color. They also act as antioxidants, enhance immune function and play a role in healthy vision.

But if this news has you bolting for that carton of OJ, you might want to think twice. No matter what the nutrient profile of orange juice, some fruit juice has as many calories as a glass of soda—and the World Health Organization recently adviced consumers to cut back on juice as well as soft drinks to keep sugar intake below five percent of daily consumption.

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