What?! Orange Juice Isn’t A Health Drink?!

It turns out commercial orange juice isn't exactly like pulling an orange off the tree and squeezing it.

It turns out commercial orange juice isn’t exactly like pulling an orange off the tree and squeezing it.

At my house, orange juice is one of the first things we reach for when someone starts showing signs of coming down with a cold. I mean, the vitamin C is supposed to be really good for us, right? Help strengthen our immune systems and all that? Plus I’m convinced there’s something about the orange liquid that makes us feel like we’re drinking a little bit of sunshine. It’s cheering to drink it when we are feeling under the weather.

Well, it was cheering. Until I read this piece in the Atlantic that has me wondering if I have, yet again, been duped by marketing into thinking something that really isn’t all that good for me will improve my health. I admit that I feel like my parade has been rained on a little bit. According to the Atlantic’s piece, “Misunderstanding Orange Juice as a Health Drink,” I have definitely misunderstood orange juice on a couple of levels.

The first misunderstanding: Orange juice will help you feel better. The juice began to be promoted as a health drink in the 1920s in order to fight what was later determined to be a “fad” ailment called acidosis, or an excess of acid in the blood. Marketers seized on the opportunity to encourage people to consume orange juice as much a possible. And since then orange juice has been wearing a “healthy halo” that has gone virtually unchallenged for nearly 100 years.

The second (and more offensive to me) misunderstanding: Orange juice is pure, freshly squeezed oranges — practically untouched. If the article is to be believed, orange juice is, in fact, heavily processed and palatable only because of the addition of oils and essences to juices. The juices themselves have been sitting on shelves for, possibly, months. Not as “fresh” as I naively assumed. Not by a long shot.

These misunderstandings obviously change the way I look at orange juice. Can I really feel good about offering a glass to my sick children? Or pouring it into the blender alongside kale, frozen berries and bananas, and plain, full-fat homemade yogurt as part of our super-healthy smoothies? If it really is nutritionally equal to soda, then maybe I should just buy soda and save myself the money, right?

Maybe, but maybe not. I still have questions. I mean, does the “heavily processed” juice retain some of the vitamins of a full-orange? And doesn’t that count for something? Aren’t the natural sugars of the orange better than the laboratory sugars of soda? (Even if science, at this point, says they are exactly the same?) And how do manufacturers get away with putting “100% pure squeezed orange juice” on the carton if they also add flavor packs of oils and essences?

Clearly, I’m not ready to give up on orange juice just yet. It may just be the placebo effect, but I do feel better when I’ve had a glass of orange juice. Sunshine in a cup does still mean something to me, and the fact that it does at least bear a strong resemblance to actual juice from an orange counts for something in my book — it’s completely different from soda, or even from one of those beverages that boasts to contain “5% real fruit juice.” It may not be the first thing I reach for when someone starts coming down with a cold at our house — I’ll try to keep some whole oranges on hand for that — but I won’t hesitate to add some to my smoothies or serve it at breakfast sometimes.

After all, it may not be a health food, but I personally think there’s something healthy about letting loose and letting the sunshine in once in a while.

 

photo credit: Lizzie Heiselt

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