Are smoothies turning into the new soda? The two scientists who alerted the public to the dangers of high fructose corn syrup back in 2004 are now raising concerns about the amount of sugar in seemingly healthy drinks, including fruit smoothies and juice.
Eat an orange or two and you feel full. As Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina, says, things are different when you drink a smoothie made with six oranges because
“…two hours later it does not affect how much you eat. The entire literature shows that we feel full from drinking beverages like smoothies but it does not affect our overall food intake, whereas eating an orange does. So pulped-up smoothies do nothing good for us but do give us the same amount of sugar as four to six oranges or a large coke. It is deceiving.”
Popkin and George Bray, professor at a biomedical research center at Louisiana State University, have previously connected the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks to rising obesity rates around the world. Their research alerted the public to the health risks posed by drinking quantities of sugary drinks, whether with or between meals, and helped spur campaigns like the ban on large sodas in New York City and the soda tax recently proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, where consumption of Coca-Cola products is the highest in the world.
Drinking fruit smoothies and juices sweetened with naturally occurring fructose can potentially have bad results for our health as these allow us to consume large quantities of fruits and sugars without realizing it. “All sugars” have equally bad effects, Popkin explains:
“The most important issue about added sugar is that everybody thinks it’s cane sugar or maybe beet sugar or HFC syrup or all the other syrups but globally the cheapest thing on the market almost is fruit juice concentrate coming out of China. It has created an overwhelming supply of apple juice concentrate. It is being used everywhere and it also gets around the sugar quotas that lots of countries have.”
As Popkin and two other scientists noted in a 2012 study of sweeteners in U.S. food products between 2005 and 2009, fruit juice concentrate was the fifth most common sugar used. Corn syrup was the most commonly listed sweetener on food products, followed by sorghum, cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. In soft drinks and in formula milk for infants, fruit juice concentrate was the second most common sweetener.
Fruit Juice Linked to Diabetes Risk
An August study published in the British Medical Journal has linked the consumption of fruit juice to increasing your risk for diabetes. In a large-scale study of nurses, researchers from the U.S., U.K. and Singapore, found that those who ate whole fruit and especially three or more servings of blueberries, grapes and apples were less likely to get type 2 diabetes, which is obesity-related.
The study also found that those who drank fruit juice every day had a 21 percent higher risk of developing diabetes than those who did not. When people substituted fruit juice with whole fruits three times a week, they cut their risk by 7 percent.
The difference resulted from plant-based chemical compounds called polyphenols, some of which may help the body process glucose, says study co-author Qi Sun. When fruit is turned into juice, some phytochemicals (plant-based compounds) and dietary fiber are lost; as a result, when you drink juice there is a “more rapid and more dramatic glucose and insulin response” in the body, says Sun.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi Also Make Smoothies and Juice
Soft drink companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi who are all too much aware of the public health campaigns against their products have been entering the juice and smoothie market. When Pepsi launched Tropicana Smoothies in 2008, it pitched them in the U.K. as a way for people to meet their daily fruit and vegetable intake, notes the Guardian.
While it’s all right to drink vegetable juice to get in your daily allowance of fruits and vegetables, Popkin emphasizes that smoothies and fruit juice are “the new danger.” As he and Bray observed this year in a Pediatric Obesity article that followed up on their earlier findings about high-fructose corn syrup, even though there is less of that sweetener in our beverages, “fructose remains a major component of our global diet,” whether in drinks or food products.
Overall, Americans are consuming too much sugar. Fruit juice is not 100 percent healthy and could even, as the British Medical Journal shows, raise our risk for diabetes. All of this reminds us that (to state the obvious), water is always a great choice. While we ought to be wary about consuming pre-made smoothies, you still don’t need to put away your own blender or juicer and would do well to whip up your fruit drink. You just might not want to use six oranges!
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