Is Orange Juice Really Healthy?
8 minute read
Orange juice has long been considered an essential part of an all-American breakfast but is that glass of OJ as healthy as it’s cracked up to be?
While orange juice does provide vitamin C and other nutrients, like any juice product, eating the whole fruit provides additional health benefits and is a healthier option to guzzling that glass of juice.
From Concentrate or Fresh?
During the second World War, the federal government, scientists, and the Florida Department of Citrus (a state agency) joined forces to develop an accessible alternative to canned juice. The result was frozen orange juice concentrate.
Concentrate is created by extracting the juice and filtering some or all of the pulp, heat-pasteurizing, and separating juice to be sold as liquid from juice for concentrate.
The juice to be concentrated goes through a heat process to evaporate water and resulting concentrate is stored or packaged.
By the 1980s, food scientists had developed reconstituted juice and a decade later, "not from concentrate" juice had begun to be marketed, giving consumers the impression that the juice sold in cartons was "fresh."
Is Your Orange Juice "Freshly Squeezed?"
The premium orange juice in your local market is promoted as "not from concentrate" or fresh-squeezed but oranges go though a long process to end up in the carton or jug. The "100% natural," commercially processed juice isn’t the same as what grandma used to squeeze in the kitchen.
That natural sunny flavor is more likely to come from a lab than a Florida orange grove. Oils and essences are extracted from oranges and head to a flavor manufacturer who creates brand-specific flavor packs.
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In addition to adding flavor packs, producers may add citric acid (absorbic acid) to increase the vitamin C content or to replace any vitamins lost in the pasteurization and storage processes.
Calcium-Fortified Orange Juice
Most brands of orange juice offer a variety with added calcium and vitamin D. Some processors add omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil. Studies suggest that the calcium added to orange juice and other fortified products is bio-available but obtaining calcium and nutrients from natural sources may be preferable.
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A Washington University School of Medicine study concluded that women who receive daily calcium primarily from food have stronger bones than those who derive calcium from supplements, even when supplement intake is higher than average. The fortification process is comparable to supplementation.
For those who avoid dairy, there are numerous natural sources of calcium, including almonds, leafy green vegetables, tofu and oranges.
Straight From The Tree?
The season when Florida Valencia oranges are at their peak is March through June. Outside of that window, orange juice is far more likely to include a blend of Florida oranges, most if not all from long-storage, and oranges imported from Brazil, even if the label says Pure Florida Orange Juice.
Most likely, commercial juice has been in storage for over a year when flavor packets are added to restore citrus taste and aroma. The current favored technology for storing pasteurized orange juice is aseptic storage, which essentially removes oxygen from the juice through deaeration. If the orange juice doesn’t oxidize in those million gallon storage tanks, it won’t go bad for over a year.
The deaeration process also removes the natural chemicals that provide flavor so those flavor packs manufactured by fragrance and flavor companies are added. Since the base comes from the orange essence and oils, the flavor packs aren’t listed among the ingredients. Hence, the label reads “100% orange juice.”
The favored taste for orange juice varies around the world. For example, orange juice marketed in North America may contain high levels of ethyl butyrate. The flavors vary per brand but the shared flavor profile is that of a spring-harvested Florida Valencia orange.
Oranges, A Good Source of Vitamin C?
Oranges as a fruit are a good source of vitamin C, fiber, B vitamins folate and thiamin, and antioxidants. One large orange contains over 100% of the daily recommended intake for vitamin C.
As a good source of potassium, oranges can have a positive effect on people with hypertension. Antioxidants in oranges include hesperidin and anthocyanins, which add to their orange hue. In addition, all citrus fruits contain carotenoids, which the body converts into vitamin A. The citrus acid in oranges may be beneficial in preventing kidney stones.
Orange Juice & Nutrients
Is orange juice a good way to add nutrients to your diet? Studies are conflicted. As with any fruit or vegetable, juicing and processing eliminates the fiber and may compromise the nutrients, as well as increasing the concentration of sugar.
According to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the process of juicing may increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients or how readily those nutrients are accessible to the body.
The study looked specifically at the carotenoid, flavonoid,and vitamin C concentrations between fresh orange segments and homogenized puree, as well as freshly squeezed and flash-pasteurized juice. The research concluded that some of the carotenoids and flavonoids had decreased as a result of juicing but the vitamin C remained constant.
The difference was in the bioaccessibility or the percentage available to the body and what they found was surprising. The bioavailability of carotenoids increased by three to four times in juice and for vitamin C, the increase was about 10 percent.
However, nutritionists note that the studies were done in a lab and not on humans so the results may vary through the actual digestive process. In addition, the amount of carotenoids and flavonoids in relatively low so differences in the bioaccessibility may be less consequential.
Fiber and Sugar
While orange juice does provide health benefits in terms of vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients, juice lacks the fiber of a whole fruit. In fact, the fiber content of one glass of juice is around 0.7 grams, compared to a cup of orange segments at 4.3 grams.
Approximately 1 ½ oranges are squeezed per each glass of juice so juice is denser in calories and sugar. The difference may not be important when you drink one glass in the morning but it’s easier to drink a few glasses of orange juice than to eat a bag of oranges.
The Bottom Line
Orange juice can be a healthy addition to your breakfast, especially if you choose fresh squeezed juice. One-half of a cup of 100% juice is considered to be one fruit. However, juice should be limited for most people to no more than one serving a day with the balance coming from whole fruit.
Commercial oranges typically contain “flavor packets,” chemicals to enhance the aroma and flavor of orange juice that has been stored in vats for a year and a half or more. Juicing organic oranges at home is a better option.
Although calcium-fortified orange juice is available, obtaining calcium from calcium-rich foods is preferable. Non-dairy sources of calcium include leafy greens like kale, tofu, almonds, and, ironically, oranges.
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