Daily glass of fruit juice just as likely to lead to early death as fizzy drinks, study says

Purported health benefits of fruit juice, which is currently exempt from UK's sugar tax, not enough to counteract harms of sugar

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Friday 17 May 2019 16:16 BST
Sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks 'fuelling obesity epidemic among children'

Drinking lots of fruit juice could increase your risk of an early death just as much as lemonade, cola or fruit squash, research suggests.

Despite being widely seen as a healthy option, a US led study has found little benefit from sticking to 100 per cent fruit juices rather than other drinks with artificial or added sugar.

People who drank a daily 350ml glass of juice had a 24 per cent greater chance of dying during the study, compared to an 11 per cent increase among those drinking any daily sugary soft drink.

The researchers, led by Emory University, said their findings should challenge the assumption that fruit juice is healthier than other sugary drinks.

“While 100 per cent fruit juices contain some vitamins and phytonutrients that are missing from most sugar-sweetened beverages, the predominant ingredients in both are sugar and water," the researchers wrote in the journal JAMA Open.

While juice contains "natural" sugars, they are no different chemically to the sugars in other drinks when they enter the body and are processed.

Despite international efforts to reduce sugar consumption and harmful child obesity, the authors said: "Less attention has been given to the role of 100 per cent fruit juice consumption, which tends to be perceived as a healthy beverage option.

"These findings suggest that consumption of sugary beverages, including fruit juices, is associated with all-cause mortality."

The study involved 13,440 US adults over the age of 45 with no previous heart conditions and followed them for six years on average.

Around 94 per cent said they drank fruit juices, compared to 80.9 per cent who drank other sugary drinks, and over the course of the study there were 1,000 deaths, 168 of them due to coronary heart disease.

People in the group got 8.4 per cent of their calories from sugary drinks on average. But the risk of dying from heart disease was around 44 per cent higher in the heaviest sugary drinks users - who got 10 per cent or more of their calories from sweet drinks - or 14 per cent higher chance of dying any cause.

The researchers said obesity, and related disease, was one obvious way it could be having this effect.

But they found that sugary drink consumption increased the risk of heart disease and diabetes even in people who were a healthy weight, so it may be affecting blood pressure, inflammation or insulin resistance independently of obesity.

The UK is one of many countries grappling with soaring adult and child obesity and introduced sugar taxes on sweetened drinks to combat this. But 100 per cent fruit juices are not affected by this as they don't contain added sugar.

Dr Gunter Kuhnle, a nutrition researcher from the University of Reading, said the Emory study "would suggest purported health benefits of fruit juices are not sufficient to counteract their sugar content.

"Fruit juices can provide vitamins and even some fibre, but there is little health benefit beyond this: the amount of phytochemical found in juices is too low to have any further beneficial effect, and there is no beneficial health effect from so-called antioxidants," he added.

“Fruit juices are a poor replacement for actual fruit consumption, in particular as they can be much more easily over-consumed.”

While this is an important finding, the fact that it is the first to compare 100 per cent fruit and sweetened drinks means its findings also need to be replicated in other studies.

The UK recommends one 150ml glass of fruit juice can count towards a person’s five a day, but that they shouldn’t drink any more.

“This study is a reminder that consuming sugary drinks can contribute to dental caries, increased calories, weight gain, and associated ill health," Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at PHE, said.

Current advice is to swap sugary drinks for water, lower fat milks and lower sugar or diet drinks.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in