The Meal Matters Most

What Makes Healthy Food Healthy: From a Stress Perspective

Is drinking a Coca-Cola equivalent to drinking Apple Juice?

1 Comment

So I was out to lunch with a friend when he expressed to me that drinking a coke was no different than drinking an apple juice. That side-by-side the sugar content is similar (sugar, is sugar, is sugar) and therefore the potential negative impacts were equivalent. (*Note: My friend stated “no matter how fresh squeezed, cloudy or full of nutrients it was”).

apple juice

I don’t fault my incredibly smart food science friend for thinking this. Actually there was an article recently in the Telegraph where a school out-right banned fruit juice as “junk food” (“Primary School Angers Parents by Banning Fruit Juice“, The Telegraph Jan. 15, 2014 and “How Fruit Juice went from Health Food to Junk Food” The Guardian, Jan. 17). The Dinner ladies at that school are policing the lunch room and taking juice away from kids. And they are stating that the only proper drink is water. If you take a point of view that sugar is bad by the amount, then it sounds reasonable. This action against fruit juice in schools was taken on the advice of Susan Jebb, a government advisor and head of the diet and obesity research group at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research unit at Cambridge University, “whether it’s sugar from fruit juice or coke the stomach doesn’t know the difference.”

This type of logic is what I refer to as linear (straight line) thinking.  In linear science we find the “active” ingredient, the single cause, determine how much of that cause is needed to be toxic, and keep it below that amount. This is why many say sugar is “toxic”, but fine in small portions.

There is also the argument from many obesity experts like David Ludwig, David Katz and Robert Lustig from (“Making the Case for Eating Fruit” Egan, 2013 New York Times) that sugar in fruit is ok, but sugar from fruit juice is not. This argument is that the fiber is the “healthiest” of the fruit benefits, that fiber makes you full (because being “full” and eating less is the goal), and that the fiber locks the sugar in its cell wall and it is not as available or as quickly absorbed. According to Travis Saunders from Obesity Panacea in 2012, fruit juice, calorically and sugar source is just as bad as soda. He states: “Yes, it’s full of vitamins and minerals, but it’s also full of sugar”.

So what about that question that fruit juices have these vitamins? And why are they not important? It’s typical and logical that when you ask someone using linear thinking this question, it will be a moot point and they shrug vitamins off. The vitamins would be irrelevant, because in linear thinking you could get them elsewhere. Sugar is what is toxic, if there too much sugar, the drink is bad, vitamins or no.

Here’s what happens when you switch logical frameworks: You get new, more nuanced, answers about fruit juice.

Sugar can create a problem for our systems. Sugar creates problems both because of the actions that occur during the processing in the liver (oxidative stress) and of the amount of “quick” calories. Both of these contribute to weight gain, metabolic disorders and obesity.

So when linear science says fruit juice has “vitamins” they equate that would mean that if you drink Coke and take vitamins or eat a balanced diet elsewhere you’d be covered. But as we are learning, it doesn’t quite work that way. The phytonutrients within the context of the sugar buffer what happens in the body.  That’s right, it’s not that we “need” essential nutrients by eating a variety of fruits per se. But rather in this context the impact is more immediate. The phytonutrients “buffer” the negative impacts of the quick juice sugar. It happens within the context of the meal or in this case, the juice. Not in two linear dimensions of “sugar” and “vitamins”, but interacting together. The phytonutrients help protect the liver from the oxidants provoked when breaking down sugar into energy. So the polyphenols and antioxidants in the juice protect from the harm the fructose, our extreme form energy source, alone would have caused. So the sugar from fruits are less harmful or stressful because it combats what is called the oxidative stress, which antioxidants provide protection from.   This is why fruit juice, even though it has lots of sugar, isn’t as bad as sweetened beverages.  And while some experts argue that fruit juice has greater sugar or fructose impact without the fiber of whole fruit, there is still protection from the nutrients. Of course whole fruit will still have less sugar available or will be more slowly absorbed, which can certainly be advantageous at many times.  But this statement alone about the amount or quickness of sugar does not make fruit juice bad.  Fruit juice with the added buffers that impact how the sugar will impact the liver tells us more about when and how much fruit juice impacts our health.  Whole fruit is great, fruit juice has its place but both will still be significant, almost dramatically, less than “junk” sugar and, in my opinion, HFCS-sweetened beverages.

By switching our scientific framework to stress mechanisms we have a better way to evaluate these nuances. Instead of oversimplified answers like “juice is bad” because sugar is bad.  We’d get an answer not quite as simple, but much more accurate. The answer is “it depends”.

While it’s important to get essential and varied nutrients from foods, the more complex science is about what those nutrients do WITH the foods and with our body in a real-time interactive context. It’s not always about essential nutrients for body function “x”, but in cases like this the antioxidants assisting in buffering the impacts of fats and sugars from our foods as we eat them.

Looking at the evidence

To further my point, if these two drinks were equivalent, if Apple juice is no different than Coca-Cola, we would find similar studies showing similar outcomes. However, I have yet to find a study that Coca-Cola has any benefits. And yet there are many studies on fruit juice benefits.  Fruit juice, without the fiber, is even suggested to have greater antioxidant impact (quicker absorption than in whole form) and the higher calorie content of fruit juice may be just what starving brains, hardwired for “sugar”, need during intense growth periods. So, both whole fruit and juices can be part of a healthy diet. And some studies even show that those who moderately drink more fresh juices tend to eat more whole fruits (O’Neil 2011).  Which is our main goal for the average healthy diet: Improving real food intake.  Juice would be the smallest part of eating a whole food diet.  A diet with traditional whole food prepared meals containing great sources of energy (aka calories) for growing bodies and brains in a balanced manner.

Good food is good because it’s part of a larger whole.  Fruit juice should especially not be our only fruit source. However, contrary to the “only a treat”  or “only a little is ok” mentality of some health experts, fruit juice does have the potential to provide extra benefit.  When taking a stress perspective we’d see juices like orange juice in the context of the meal can buffer the stress of that meal. So like our traditional and sometimes high fat breakfast of bacon and eggs (Ghanim 2011) with orange juice, it’s the juice that buffers the stress of the high fat-sugar (or energy sources) of the meal. So that OJ with your morning breakfast, for the purpose of stress balancing, can actually be a grand idea, sugar and all.

Juice can have a solid place in healthy eating. The better we eat, the better we eat. The more nutrition we get the less likely we eat or drink “excessive energy” foods and beverages. The more stress we feel (from lack of nutrition or crappy environment) the more tempted and likely we are to seek these targeted junk “drug-like” foods and beverage. Stress less, eat better, eat delicious.  Don’t villainize fruit juice or all sugar from all sources which is over-applying linear science. If we want to solve obesity we have to quit thinking about these extreme views and just start putting together better meals with better science.

So sorry friend, I do not think a coke is equivalent to apple juice. Juice doesn’t get a free pass as a “health food”, but it can have its place as part of our healthy food universe, whereas a coke? Not so much.


How fruit juice went from health food to junk food: For decades fruit juice has been seen as a healthy option. Then this week a primary school banned it after claims that it’s as bad for you as Coca-Cola. But how big a health risk does it pose? Emine Saner. The Guardian, Friday 17 January 2014 17.34 EST,

Apple Juice Studies: 

Polyphenol profiles of apple juices. Kahle K, Kraus M, Richling E.Mol Nutr Food Res. 2005 Aug;49(8):797-806. LINK

Impact of apple and grape juice consumption on the antioxidant status in healthy subjects. Yuan L, Meng L, Ma W, Xiao Z, Zhu X, Feng JF, Yu H, Xiao R.Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Dec;62(8):844-50. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2011.587399. Epub 2011 Jun 6. LINK

Apple juice concentrate maintains acetylcholine levels following dietary compromise. Chan A, Graves V, Shea TB.J Alzheimers Dis. 2006 Aug;9(3):287-91. LINK

Attenuation of KBrO3-induced renal and hepatic toxicity by cloudy apple juice in rat. Kujawska M, Ignatowicz E, Ewertowska M, Adamska T, Markowski J, Jodynis-Liebert J.Phytother Res. 2013 Aug;27(8):1214-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4848. Epub 2012 Oct 8. LINK

A comprehensive review of apples and apple components and their relationship to human health. Hyson DA.Adv Nutr. 2011 Sep;2(5):408-20. doi: 10.3945/an.111.000513. Epub 2011 Sep 6. LINK

Fruit Juice

One hundred percent orange juice consumption is associated with better diet quality, improved nutrient adequacy, and no increased risk for overweight/obesity in children. O’Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Rampersaud GC, Fulgoni VL 3rd.Nutr Res. 2011 Sep;31(9):673-82. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2011.09.002.

Corrective effects of acerola (Malpighia emarginata DC.) juice intake on biochemical and genotoxical parameters in mice fed on a high-fat diet. Leffa DD, da Silva J, Daumann F, Dajori AL, Longaretti LM, Damiani AP, de Lira F, Campos F, Ferraz AD, Côrrea DS, de Andrade VM. Mutat Res. 2013 Dec 1. pii: S0027-5107(13)00194-2. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2013.11.005

Fruit juice consumption is associated with improved nutrient adequacy in children and adolescents: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2006.O’Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Zanovec M, Kleinman RE, Fulgoni VL.Public Health Nutr. 2012 Oct;15(10):1871-8. doi: 10.1017/S1368980012000031. Epub 2012 Mar 23

The Role of Dietary Fiber in the Bioaccessibility and Bioavailability of Fruit and Vegetable Antioxidants. Hugo Palafox-Carlos, Jesús Fernando Ayala-Zavala, and Gustavo A González-AguilarJ Food Sci. 2011 January; 76(1): R6–R15. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01957.x

Plant polyphenols mobilize nuclear copper in human peripheral lymphocytes leading to oxidatively generated DNA breakage: implications for an anticancer mechanism. Shamim U, Hanif S, Ullah MF, Azmi AS, Bhat SH, Hadi SM.Free Radic Res. 2008 Aug;42(8):764-72. doi: 10.1080/10715760802302251. LINK

Intervention with polyphenol-rich fruit juices results in an elevation of glutathione S-transferase P1 (hGSTP1) protein expression in human leucocytes of healthy volunteers.Hofmann T, Liegibel U, Winterhalter P, Bub A, Rechkemmer G, Pool-Zobel BL.Mol Nutr Food Res. 2006 Dec;50(12):1191-200. LINK

Anti-inflammatory properties of orange juice: possible favorable molecular and metabolic effects.Coelho RC, Hermsdorff HH, Bressan J.Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2013 Mar;68(1):1-10. doi: 10.1007/s11130-013-0343-3. LINK

High fat meal increase of IL-17 is prevented by ingestion of fruit juice drink in healthy overweight subjects. Peluso I, Raguzzini A, Villano DV, Cesqui E, Toti E, Catasta G, Serafini M.Curr Pharm Des. 2012;18(1):85-90. LINK

Soft Drink Studies

Soft drink consumption is associated with fatty liver disease independent of metabolic syndrome. Abid A, Taha O, Nseir W, Farah R, Grosovski M, Assy J.N.  Hepatol. 2009 Nov;51(5):918-24. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2009.05.033. Epub 2009 Aug 21. LINK

Energy and fructose from beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup pose a health risk for some people. Bray GA.Adv Nutr. 2013 Mar 1;4(2):220-5. doi: 10.3945/an.112.002816. LINK

Modest Fructose Beverage Intake Causes Liver Injury and Fat Accumulation in Marginal Copper Deficient Rats. Ming Song, Dale A Schuschke, Zhanxiang Zhou, Theresa Chen, Xue Shi, Jiayuan Zhang, Xiang Zhang, William M. Pierce, Jr., W. Thomas Johnson, Miriam B. Vos, and Craig J. McClain. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 August; 21(8): 1669–1675. doi: 10.1002/oby.20380 LINK

Fructose as a key player in the development of fatty liver disease. Basaranoglu M, Basaranoglu G, Sabuncu T, Sentürk H.World J Gastroenterol. 2013 Feb 28;19(8):1166-72. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v19.i8.1166. LINK


Author: Lori Hogenkamp

Lori's passion is for food, the brain, science and stress shifting perspectives .

One thought on “Is drinking a Coca-Cola equivalent to drinking Apple Juice?

  1. Great job making them. So helpful, informative and fun

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s