My brother used to tell me that drinking orange juice was no better than drinking Coke, as it was no better than sweetened water.
Being a Floridian, that has rankled ever since.
It was brought to mind recently in a discussion with my nephew, the medical student, in which I heard him say that the recommendation for drinking juice was no more than two or three times a week. I may have heard the details wrong, because I don't see that when I look online for official recommendations, which are a bit more generous. Or it may be the newest medical-school thinking that hasn't yet been set in stone. But the upshot of the discussion was that whole fruits are good for you and should be encouraged, while fruit juice is bad for you, with no real benefits, and should be severely restricted. This opinion piece in the New York Times is an example of the bad rap juice is getting.
The doctors have good intentions, but I wouldn't be surprised if the real impetus behind this negative attitude towards juice comes from those who want to push soda consumption. After all, if orange juice isn't any better than Coke, why not drink Coke for breakfast, as the granddaughter of an acquaintance used to do?
The real question is: Why is juice so radically different from the whole fruit from which it is (supposedly) made, that the recommendations for consumption are polar opposites?
My answer is that what is called juice these days may have started as fruit, but has been so processed—strained, filtered, heated, added to and subtracted from, torn apart and put (somewhat) back together—that its source is no longer recognizable. Consider the following products:
- Oranges, freshly-picked from the tree, and reamed to extract the juice and much of the flesh
- Fresh orange juice that has not been pasteurized (I can buy this at local specialty stores, and also at Costco!)
- "Not from Concentrate" orange juice from the grocery store, which has been processed and pasteurized but at least looks like orange juice because it includes pulp
- #3 but without any pulp
- #3 or #4 with calcium added
- Orange juice from concentrate (John McPhee's book, Oranges, has a graphic description of what happens in that process)
- Orange juice drink, orange drink, orange-flavored drink, and other designations of something that may or may not have some real orange juice in it
- Tang and other pseudo-orange beverage mixes
The legal definitions are fuzzy—it's amazing what you can do to a product and still call it "orange juice"—and doctors rightly draw a line between #6 and #7, but say "orange juice" to the general public, and you could evoke thoughts of any of the above.
As far as I'm concerned, the list is in decreasing order of flavor. I suspect it is also in decreasing order of nutrition. But this definition of "juice" is so broad, even if you exclude #7 and #8, that it's useless. What do the doctors mean when they say "fruit is good, juice is bad"? Are they even considering how slippery the definition is?
This is orange juice.
It is juice I squeezed from oranges Porter picked from our own Page orange tree. Technically, the above statement is incorrect, because the Page orange is not a true orange, but a hybrid developed in Orlando in the 1940's that is 3/4 tangerine and 1/4 grapefruit. I should have said, This is citrus juice. I have no idea what the Food and Drug Administration would call it. I call it delicious.
Drinking this juice is not the same thing as eating the fruit, I'll grant. Some of the membranes are left behind in the juicing process. But a lot gets through, as you can see in this picture of the juice before I shook the bottle.
I'd say the experience is pretty close to eating the fruit. I acknowledge that the experience of drinking processed, grocery-store juice is radically different from that of eating fruit. However, the problem is not in the juice. The problem is in the processing, and the labelling.
Don't fight to eliminate juice. Fight to bring back real food!