How much sugar is there in fruit juice?

Fruit juices are naturally sugary. So, we investigated just how much the best-selling fruit juices, drinks and smoothies really contain...

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It’s been drummed into us that junk food is bad and fruit and vegetables are good. However, increasing research and opinions from the experts say that fruit juices are ones to watch when it comes to our health.

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Just because a drink is labelled ‘100% pure fruit with no added sugars’, does not mean that it is sugar free, or in fact that it’s much better than a fizzy drink. Natural fruit sugar in fruit sugar, known as fructose, is proving to be just as bad for us as sugar cane.

As we show above, many of the most popular fruit juices, drinks and smoothies that we may think of as healthy actually have several teaspoons of sugar in a single 200ml glass. 

What our samples revealed…

We looked at a range of popular fruit drinks and were shocked by the amount of sugar in each – per 200ml

  • Ella’s Kitchen The Red One smoothie fruit – 5.5 tsp
  • Capri Sun Blackcurrant –  6 tsp
  • Cawston Press Kids’ Blend Apple & Pear – 3 tsp
  • Juicy Water Lemon & Limes drink – 4 tsp
  • Sainsbury’s Mango Juice Drink – 6.9 tsp
  • Welch’s White Grape Pear & Apple – 5.7 tsp
  • Ribena carton – 5 tsp
  • Waitrose Apple & Mango Squash (when diluted) – 4 tsp
  • Innocent Fruit Tubes – 5 tsp
  • Tesco Pure Apple Juice – 5.5 tsp
  • Asda 100% Pure Orange Juice – 4.5 tsp
  • Sainsbury’s Blackcurrant Squash (when diluted) – 3.9 tsp

Professor Susan Jebb, head of the diet and obesity research group at at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research unit at Cambridge University is strongly against fruit juices. So much so, that she told the Sunday Times, “I would support taking it out of the 5-a-day guidance.”

She continued, “Fruit juice isn’t the same as intact fruit and it has got as much sugar as many classical sugar drinks. It’s also absorbed very fast so by the time it gets to your stomach your body doesn’t know whether it’s Coca-Cola or orange juice, frankly.”

Tesco have also made the decision to remove lunchbox sized cartons of Ribena, Capri Sun and Rubicon from the kids juice category. Tesco’s soft drinks buying manager David Beardmore revealed the news to The Grocer: “This is part of our 10-point plan against obesity and we have decided that from September we will only sell no-added-sugar drinks in the kids’ juice category.”  

So why is fruit good, but fruit juice bad – even when fruit juice just has fruit in it?

Fruit in its natural state, as in fresh fruit ‘picked from the tree’, contains fructose, but it is also full of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as being a good source of fibre. Giving your kids apples or oranges or any other type of fruit is a great way in providing your children with a balanced diet, so you don’t want to remove fruit from the daily menu.

It’s the way the sugar is delivered that’s different.

In basic terms, sugar is stored naturally (as fructose) in the cells of fruit. If you eat a raw apple for example, the sugar stays mostly within the cell walls and is only released and broken down when it hits your digestive system. That means it’s released slowly into our bodies, with the fruit fibre helping to slow digestion even more.

The other good thing about fresh, raw fruit is that most of the fructose doesn’t hit your teeth – as it’s still contained within the fruit cells. 

But, when fruit is pulped, squeezed, pureed or pasteurised to turn it into a fruit drink, the fructose in the cells is released and will do two things. Firstly, when you drink the juice, the fructose will ‘attack’ your teeth causing decay. Secondly, it will enter directly into your bloodstream causing a spike in your blood sugar which can lead to weight gain and other issues, just like regular sugar.

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In a nutshell…

  • The healthiest way to digest fruit sugar is when it enters your body complete in the cell and that is only possible if you eat the fruit whole
  • When it’s altered in some way, for example when it’s pulped to add into fruit juices, the sugar is released more quickly and can’t be used fast enough for our body to turn it into an energy source

How to work out how much sugar is in a juice

To check and see how much sugar there is in the juice that you are buying for your children, you will need to look at the nutritional information on the packaging:

  • It’s typically labeled by 100ml and the sugar is quoted in grams rather than teaspoons to make it harder to visualise.
  • A standard glass holds anywhere between 200ml to 250ml and a teaspoon is 4 grams of sugar.
  • If a 200ml glass of orange juice has 10 grams of sugar per 100 ml, it will have at least 20 grams of sugar in a glass
  • if you divide this by 4, you will be able to work out how many teaspoons of sugar can be found in one glass – in this case 5.

If your maths isn’t up to scratch, then follow the NHS guidelines. It says that anything with less than 5 grams of sugar per 100 ml is considered as low sugar (just over one teaspoon) and 22.5 grams is high (5.6 teaspoons). That pretty much puts most of our examples close to the high sugar category. 

And how much sugar should children have each day?

Guidelines from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) state that only 5% of your diet should be added or ‘free’ sugars (these are the natural sugars found in fruit juices). The recommended daily guidelines are:

  • 19g or 4.5 tsp for children aged 4 to 6
  • 24g or 6 tsp for children aged 7 to 10
  • 30g or 7.5 tsp for 11 years and over, based on average population diets

So you can see that many fruit drinks are hitting the daily limits in just 200ml. 

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Look out for the hidden sugars

Not all fruit juices are 100% fruit juice, some of them have sneaked in some regular sugar too, but they are all firm favourites of children, and the interesting thing is, some of them actually have less teaspoons of sugar in them than the 100% fruit juices do. 

What does that mean for parents?

We’re certainly not saying stop giving your child fruit. We’re also not advising you to stop your child drinking any fruit juice, however, you should definitely limit the amount of fruit drinks that your child is having. There are also ways to drink fruit juice in a safer way.

The safest way to consume fruit sugar

  • Dilute juices with water – this will decrease the sugar content as long as you don’t use a bigger glass! 

  • Aim for a maximum of 150ml of actual juice per day

  • Only give fruit juice during a meal – the protein in the meal will slow release the sugar and balance blood sugar

  • Eat fruit with a handful of nuts – the protein in the nuts will again slow-release the sugar and balance your blood sugar

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