That orange juice is probably not the Vitamin C punch you think it is
If you’re drinking commercially produced orange juice for its immune boosting Vitamin C and other health benefits, you’re probably seriously over-estimating their “healthiness”.
Food scientist Shannon Riva, of Stellenbosch-based Food and Allergy and Consulting Services (Facts), analysed the Vitamin C content declared on the packs of eight popular South African orange juice brands - all labelled as 100% fruit juice blends - and compared them with that of fresh juice squeezed directly from oranges.
According to Nutritics, a nutrition analysis software, freshly squeezed orange juice contains 48mg of Vitamin C per 100ml of juice.
By contrast, apart from one product, which claimed to have 75mg per 100ml (due to post-production Vit C enrichment), the Vitamin C content of the orange juice brands is far lower than that of unprocessed, freshly squeezed orange juice.
One brand has just 6g of Vitamin C per 100ml of juice.
Riva did not name the brands in her study but the findings point to the importance of comparing the Vitamin C content of the various brands of orange juice.
Two products did not display the Vitamin C content, leading Riva to surmise that their vitamin C levels were less than 5% of the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) for those aged four and older.
“These products may not have been enriched with Vitamin C - they are priced significantly lower than the other juice brands, which could be linked to the cost of enrichment.”
Commercially produced fruit juice is typically made from hydrated juice concentrates. After extraction, fruit juice is filtered, clarified and then concentrated via evaporators, reverse osmosis or freeze concentration, before final pasteurisation.
During the final stage of production, the concentrates are reconstituted with water and packaged for sale.
But during those processing steps, Riva says, micronutrients that are naturally present in fruit juice are lost.
“To compensate for these losses, producers may enrich fruit juice products, but to what extent? Select vitamins may be incorporated into fruit juices with the aim of making a nutrient content claim, according to the regulations relating to the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs.
“But the full micronutrient profile of fruit juice is never fully restored.”
Vitamin content aside, Riva says, fruit juice does not always offer the same nutritional value as fresh, whole fruit.
“Fruit juice offers less fibre per serving than whole fruit, and often contains as much sugar as sugar-sweetened beverages,” she said.
And packaged grape juice was found to contain even more total sugar than sugar- sweetened beverages, with an average of 13%, compared with about 11% in sugar-sweetened beverages.
But the human body processes sugar found in fruit juice better than the sugar in sweetened beverages, so fruit juice was still the “healthier” option in that respect, Riva said.
Bottom line: commercial fruit juice products may not offer the nutritional value that consumers expect, she said.
“Product purchases may be driven by more of a health halo effect - an overestimation of the healthiness of an item - than actual scientific evidence.”