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How Natural Fruit Juices Can Be As Harmful As Sugary Drinks

100% natural fruit juices may lack added sugars found in sugary drinks, but they also contain empty calories.

Previous research has warned about consuming too many sugary drinks. But a new study has linked sugary drinks and supposedly healthier natural fruit juices to an increased risk of premature death.

The study linked drinking too many drinks with sugar – be it sodas, sweet tea, lattes, etc. or even 100% natural fruit juices – to an increased risk of early death. The risk ranged from nine percent to 42 percent, depending on the amount consumed and personal risk factors such as obesity.

Dr. Parag Joshi, a cardiologist at Parkland Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, explained the problem with fruit juices.


About the study: "They're comparing people who drink more to people who drank less. But not saying what is the right amount and what is the harmful amount necessarily. They get at sort of the more you take in, the risk goes up by X amount. And the way they quantified this was looking at the percent of calories that came from the sugary drinks or the natural juice drinks compared to your total calories that you take in for the day. And it was in those people that ten percent or more of their calories came in from this compared to people who got less than five percent. That was where they saw this signal at the root of this."

What's wrong with 100% natural fruit juices: "Whole fruits — berries in particular — are full of fiber and they fill you up more so than the juice version of those would.  You're getting all of the sugary part of the fruits. It's also empty calories. There's no fiber in there. There's nothing that really you know satiates your hunger desire. And as a result, you probably are still taking in more sugar throughout the day. More food in general."

What's so harmful about sugar:  "Sugar is something we all need in terms of a fuel for our body, but our bodies from an evolutionary perspective were not designed to handle the amounts of sugar we're seeing in our diets today. The mechanisms that harms us is through weight gain — the calories are coming in but it's not filling us up. And that tends to mean we eat more and more."

Further concerns: "I think there's probably a link through obesity and diabetes,  stressing the body's insulin metabolism and I think that's probably why we're seeing this downstream now, the association going through obesity, through diabetes, into heart disease into dying prematurely." 

Sure, water's best. But if a patient wants something else: "Any beverage in moderation is probably fine. How much you need to moderate it is where it becomes tricky. Where the balance is on a lot of these things are relative. So if you said I'm drinking you know three glasses of orange juice a day. I would say well let's cut it back to two and we'll get to a reasonable place eventually. We have to start with where you are and then work our way to a more manageable goal." 


Study of Natural Fruit Juices & Surgary Drinks

Harvard Sugary Drink Study

Harvard Gazette: Sickly Sweet

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.