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Not a health food: Orange juice

Posted Nov 13 2009 10:02pm

Most of the time, my “Not a Health Food” articles focus on products like VitaminWater, Jell-O with antioxidants, or (heaven help us) whole-grain Pop-tarts. Frankly, it’s a pleasure exposing these lame junk foods masquerading as health foods. But orange juice? Say it isn’t so! Orange juice is good for you, isn’t it?

Sorry. According to this recent article in the LA Times, a glass of fruit juice contains nearly the same amount of sugar as a soft drink. You wouldn’t drink Mountain Dew for breakfast (or ever, I hope).

While the sugar in OJ is natural fructose, rather than high fructose corn syrup, it’s still harmful to the body in large amounts. When you drink a glass of juice, you’re essentially mainlining the sugar from some half dozen pieces of fruit, without consuming the accompanying fiber that would allow that sugar to be metabolized more slowly. Instead, the sugar in juice gets dumped directly into your bloodstream.

By now, you know the health risks linked with habitual sugar overload: diabetes, cancer, heart disease, immune dysfunction, digestive problems, allergies, and more.

Not to mention, the fiber in that fruit would have filled you up, whereas liquid calories don’t satiate you the same way and may even cause greater hunger later on as your blood sugar plummets.

I know, it’s tough to swallow. For most people, orange juice is to breakfast as stuffing is to Thanksgiving. It just belongs at the table, and the meal wouldn’t be the same without it. In reality, OJ is a relatively new addition to our diets. Apparently, Florida citrus growers introduced orange juice in the early 1900s as a way to help them get rid of a surplus crop.

Come to think of it, isn’t this kind of how we ended up with so much high fructose corn syrup on our supermarket shelves? Lots of corn and nowhere to put it?

The healthiest replacement for fruit juice is a glass of water or a cup of tea. If you love the taste of citrus in the morning, eat a whole orange. Explore the different varieties of citrus available at your local grocery store, or order an assortment -- a traditional wintertime treat for those of us in the snowbelt!
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