12/11/2014 04:48 GMT | Updated 11/01/2015 05:59 GMT

Orange Juice: Friend or Foe?


So, do we now add orange juice and smoothies to our list of don'ts when it comes to watching our weight?

Well on the face of it, up against a can of coke, fruit juice seems a great 'natural' alternative - and the image of breakfasting on a bowl of cereal with a glass of orange juice is ingrained in our nutritional psyche as a 'healthy start' to the day. Yet even this seemingly virtuous beverage is under attack from the 'Sugar Police' in the latest headlines - but why?

Well, sad to say, but fruit juice and smoothies can contain even more sugar than coke - up to 12 teaspoons in a glass! Some juices not only have fruit sugars, but may have added sugar, too - why on earth do some manufacturers do that?! These 'added sugars' only fuel our palate into craving sweeter and sweeter foods - increasing our consumption and our weight.

The sugar from fruit is 'natural', for sure, but that doesn't mean it is good for you - deadly nightshade is natural too! Don't be lulled into the marketing ploy of an 'all-natural' juice - sugar is sugar, and we need to keep on top of our consumption.

The type of sugar in fruit is called fructose - a sugar that doesn't cause so many blood sugar spikes (the long-term effects of which can lead to type-2 diabetes) but one that may increase the amount of fat stored in the liver - which in turn can cause disease. A small amount of fructose in an apple is unlikely to cause problems as it is mixed in with fibre anyway, which helps protect us from the sugar's effects and slows its absorption. However, strip the fibre away to leave just the juice and it is absorbed more quickly. Not to mention the fact that you are unlikely to be satisfied with the juice of just one piece of fruit. In fact, manufacturers proudly shout about the amount of fruit that they have crammed into one bottle of juice. OK, perhaps that provides a few more vitamins (though sitting on a supermarket shelf is likely to degrade them) - but squeezing half a fruit bowl's worth into one serving delivers a shedload more sugar, too.

So, you will be more full, and take in less sugar if you have an apple and a glass of water than straight apple juice.

So does that mean a total no to fruit juice then?

Of course not. Anything in moderation is good. But personally, I would rather find a more filling way to get my few teaspoons of sugar a day than a single glass of fruit juice. Besides, when I do hanker after the vitamin-hit that juice can offer, I much prefer to blitz my own using a lot of veg and a hint of fruit (so reducing the sugar) and blend where possible rather than juice to keep a bit more of the fibre. That way I know it is as fresh as it can be, I know exactly how much sugar it contains and keep as many nutrients in it as possible.

What can you drink instead?

Water infused with fruits, or flavoured with ginger, lemon or mint and lots of ice is great at this time of year. Tea and coffee is fine too - but a coffee shop latte can contain loads of sugar, so watch out. Fruit juice spritzer? Mix fruit juice with an equal amount of sparkling water to halve sugar content per glass. Or try coconut water - only about 2.5 teaspoons per cup - so also makes a lovely, low-sugar option.