Orange juice is the most popular fruit juice worldwide and has long been a breakfast staple.
Television commercials and marketing slogans portray this drink as unquestionably natural and healthy.
Yet, some scientists and health experts are concerned that this sweet beverage could harm your health.
This article looks at orange juice and whether it’s good or bad for you.
Most store-bought types of orange juice aren’t made by simply squeezing fresh-picked oranges and pouring the juice into bottles or cartons.
Rather, they’re produced through a multi-step, rigorously controlled process, and the juice can be stored in large tanks for up to a year before packaging.
First, oranges are washed and squeezed by a machine. Pulp and oils are removed. The juice is heat-pasteurized to inactivate enzymes and kill microbes that could otherwise cause deterioration and spoilage (1, 2, 3).
Unfortunately, these processes also remove compounds that provide aroma and flavor. Some of them are later added back to the juice from carefully blended flavor packs (5).
Finally, before packaging, juice from oranges harvested at different times may be mixed to help minimize variations in quality. Pulp, which undergoes further processing after extraction, is added back to some juices (1).
Summary Supermarket orange juice isn’t the simple product it may appear to be. It undergoes complex, multi-step processing and can be stored in large tanks for up to a year before being packaged for sale in stores.
Orange juice and whole oranges are nutritionally similar, but there are some important differences.
Most notably, compared to a whole orange, a serving of orange juice has significantly less fiber and about twice the calories and carbs — which are mostly fruit sugar.
|Orange juice||Fresh orange|
|Fat||0 grams||0 grams|
|Carbs||25.5 grams||15 grams|
|Fiber||0.5 grams||3 grams|
|Protein||2 grams||1 gram|
|Vitamin A||4% of the RDI||6% of the RDI|
|Vitamin C||137% of the RDI||116% of the RDI|
|Thiamine||18% of the RDI||8% of the RDI|
|Vitamin B6||7% of the RDI||4% of the RDI|
|Folate||11% of the RDI||10% of the RDI|
|Calcium||2% of the RDI||5% of the RDI|
|Magnesium||7% of the RDI||3% of the RDI|
|Potassium||14% of the RDI||7% of the RDI|
As you can see, the nutrient content of whole oranges and juice is similar. Both are excellent sources of vitamin C — which supports immune health — and a good source of folate — which helps reduce the risk of certain birth defects in pregnancy (9, 10).
However, juice would be even higher in these nutrients if some weren’t lost during processing and storage. For example, in one study, store-bought orange juice had 15% less vitamin C and 27% less folate than home-squeezed orange juice (4).
Though not listed on nutrition labels, oranges and orange juice are also rich in flavonoids and other beneficial plant compounds. Some of these are reduced during orange juice processing and storage (1, 4, 11).
What’s more, one study found that — compared to unprocessed orange juice — pasteurized orange juice had 26% less antioxidant activity immediately after heat processing and 67% less antioxidant activity after about a month in storage (2).
Summary An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving of orange juice has about twice the calories and sugar of a whole orange. Their vitamin and mineral content is similar, but juice loses some vitamins and beneficial plant compounds during processing and storage.
The healthiest type of orange juice is the kind you fresh-squeeze at home — but that can be time-consuming. Therefore, many people opt to buy orange juice from the supermarket.
The least healthy options are orange-flavored drinks that contain only a small percentage of real juice, along with several additives like high-fructose corn syrup and yellow food coloring.
Stores also sell orange juice with added calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients. However, due to its high calorie count, you shouldn’t drink it just for these added nutrients. Instead, taking a supplement pill is a calorie-free way to fill in any dietary gaps (14).
If you’re watching your calorie intake, you can buy orange juice beverages that promote 50% fewer calories and less sugar than regular orange juice.
However, these drinks contain added water and sugar substitutes — either natural ones, such as stevia, or artificial ones, including sucralose and acesulfame potassium, which you may prefer to avoid. If included, these will be listed in the ingredients list.
Finally, you can choose how much pulp you want in your orange juice. Extra pulp doesn’t add enough fiber to change the count on the nutrition label compared to pulpless juice, but it does supply beneficial plant compounds, including flavonoids (13, 15).
Summary The most nutritious option for store-bought juice is 100% orange juice with extra pulp. The worst choices are orange-flavored drinks that contain little real juice along with added sugars.
Nearly 80% of Americans fall short of the recommended daily fruit intake, which is two cups daily for the average adult. Orange juice is available year-round and has consistent quality, making it a convenient and flavorful way to help you meet your fruit quota (3, 16, 17).
Additionally, it generally costs less than whole oranges. Therefore, it can help those on a strict budget meet their daily fruit recommendations (3).
Still, health experts advise opting for whole fruit over juice when you can and note that fruit juice should make up no more than half of your daily fruit quota, meaning no more than one cup (240 ml) a day for the average adult (8, 17, 18).
Several studies have tested the heart health benefits of orange juice and suggest that it may help increase your antioxidant status and protect against free radical damage to cholesterol, which is a risk factor for atherosclerosis (19, 20, 21).
However, these studies are typically sponsored by companies or groups with an interest in selling more orange juice and/or require people to drink higher amounts of orange juice, such as two cups a day or more.
Summary Orange juice can help you meet your fruit goal of two servings a day, but it should make up no more than half of your daily fruit quota. This means that you should limit your intake to one daily serving of juice.
Though orange juice is linked to some health benefits, it also has drawbacks that are mainly linked to its calorie content and effects on blood sugar levels.
High in Calories
What’s more, studies show that when you drink calorie-rich beverages, such as orange juice, you don’t necessarily eat less food overall and may consume more calories than you would have without the juice (22, 23, 24).
Additionally, when adults and teens drank two cups (500 ml) of orange juice with breakfast, it decreased their body’s fat burning after meals by 30% compared to drinking water. This may be partly due to the sugary juice stimulating fat production in the liver (27).
Perhaps most concerning are the effects of orange juice in children, as they’re the top consumers of juice and juice drinks (18).
Orange juice and other sugary drinks can contribute to excess calorie intake in children, as well as tooth decay. Diluting orange juice doesn’t necessarily decrease dental risks, though it can reduce calorie intake (18).
May Raise Blood Sugar Levels
Orange juice could also increase your blood sugar more than whole oranges.
The glycemic load — which is a measure of how a food’s carb quality and quantity affect blood sugar levels — ranges from 3–6 for whole oranges and 10–15 for orange juice.
To help overcome some of these drawbacks of orange juice, scientists have tested the benefits of adding orange pomace — fiber and flavonoid-rich remnants of oranges retrieved from the segments, broken pulp and core — to juice.
However, more research is needed, and pomace-enriched orange juice isn’t available in stores yet.
Summary Drinking orange juice isn’t very filling and may contribute to excess calorie intake and weight gain. It may also raise your blood sugar more than a whole orange and can increase your risk of dental decay.
It may be an easy way to reach your recommended fruit intake but can cause blood sugar spikes and even weight gain.
It’s best to limit yourself to no more than 8 ounces (240 ml) per day.
Even better, if you can, opt for whole oranges over juice whenever possible.