You couldn’t help but notice the tabloid headlines last week featuring the juicy news. No, it wasn’t a press release announcing the launch of a new Tory edition of the Deal or No Deal boardgame to the public. Nor was it the news that Labour had solved their conundrum of how to climb down two sides of the Brexit fence simultaneously without doing themselves an injury. It wasn’t even speculation about whether Love Island couple Maura and Curtis would really last on the outside. All the same, the juicy feature spread across the newsstands involved an unhealthier re-coupling of sorts. The story broke with the newsflash that fruit juice has fallen from its healthy pedestal and joined the ranks of fizzy sweetened drinks. 100% fruit juice has been exposed as not being the health elixir it once was. New evidence has shown that the consumption of 100% fruit juices is associated with a higher risk of developing cancer.
The headlines that ‘Fruit juice causes cancer’ sounded alarming and related to a recent study looking at the link between the consumption of sugary drinks and the risk of developing cancer. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that like fizzy sweetened drinks, the consumption of 100% fruit juices was associated with a higher risk of overall cancer and breast cancer. In other words, when it comes to cancer you are not doing yourself any favours by bypassing the cola for juice.
This may seem surprising when it’s widely accepted that sweetened fizzy drinks are bad for our health and have no nutritional value. Some would even say that their badness is part of the appeal. But juice from some fruit?! How can that possibly be bad for our health when you can still count it as one of your ‘5-a-day’?! Do fruit juices really deserve to be sitting on the same list of cancer risk baddies as processed and red meat, smoking and alcohol?
The reason why fruit juices are in the spotlight comes down to their sugar content. Although 100% fruit juices contain vitamins and are nutritionally better for our health than a can of cola, they are also full of ‘free’ sugars by the simple fact that they are juices. Although whole fruits contain natural sugars, they are contained in the cellular structure of the fruit. However, when fruits are blended or pureed, the sugars are released and are free sugars which are much more damaging to our teeth and our health. In fact, the amount of free sugar in a glass of 100% fruit juice is roughly the same as a regular cola (not to mention the number of calories).
Unlike the name, free sugars come at a cost to our health. Free sugars include all sugars that are added to foods and drinks by the consumer, cook or manufacture and the sugars found naturally in honey and syrups, unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies and purees. But our bodies don’t mind where they come from because they treat all free sugars the same way. There is much evidence to show that the consumption of sugary drinks is associated with a higher risk developing conditions, such as obesity, that are strong risk factors for many cancers. Why should 100% fruit juice be any different?
Although fruit juice can still be counted as a maximum of one of the five daily portions of fruit and vegetables, Public Health England recommends limiting the consumption of juice to not more than 150ml/day. Given the latest study, does this now mean that you should try to avoid all fruit juices and smoothies? Is this the end of the NutriBullet?
The easy answer is yes and especially between meals as they can also damage our teeth. We should ideally drink water or milk in place of all sweetened beverages. However, this doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a place for smoothies when it comes to recovery from playing sport.
Now to clarify, I am not talking about when you take part in a light session of sport or yoga or going for a short walk. I am talking specifically about when you do a demanding workout for more than 60min. After a hard session you will need to drink to rehydrate all of the fluids you lost through sweat. But you can also boost your recovery through nutrition. Eating a carbohydrate-rich snack or meal will replenish empty glycogen stores and aid a full recovery. Including some protein-rich food will also help to build and repair your tired muscles. A snack or meal containing both is an easy way to achieve this and this is where smoothies come in.
Drinking a smoothie can be a quick way to get in some nutrition when you can’t face eating, particularly after doing an endurance sport. A smoothie containing milk and/or yoghurt and fruit has the right balance of carbohydrates and protein needed for recovery but it will also help to hydrate you. You can still help to protect your teeth by drinking water alongside a smoothie and pairing it with a non-sugar snack. But as a stopgap before you can face a recovery meal, I think it’s pretty useful in sport.
Without a doubt this new study will prompt further research into the role that free sugars and fruit juices play in our health and affect our risk of cancer and other conditions. In the meantime, as Tory politicians vie to become the next Prime Minister, the leading candidate has proposed revisiting the sugar levy or ‘sin tax’ that was placed on all sugar-sweetened drinks in 2018. Whether the suggestion was for political gain or not I fear that his intention is not to look at extending the types of sugary drinks that are taxed to include 100% fruit juices and other contenders. With the announcement of the new PM imminently upon us only time will tell if the unhealthy rumours are true and the sugar tax will be scrapped. In any case, I expect more evidence to come out that shows the extent to which our bodies treat fruit juices and fizzy sweetened drinks the same. Inevitably, there will be more juicy headlines to come because unlike Love Island contestants, the sugary match between fruit juices and fizzy sweetened drinks is here to stay.
Time for the recipe and this time, a smoothie recovery drink. This Berry oat smoothie really hits the spot and if you use frozen berries it will help to keep it cool.