What is breakfast without orange juice? The average American drinks over two gallons of fruit juice each year.
But does the mass production process that turns oranges into cardboard boxes on your grocery store shelf reduce their nutritional value?
Melissa Keaney, Hartford HealthCare Registered Dietitian Dietitian in Westport, analyzes the effects of processing, the nutrients OJ offers, and weighs the age-old pulp debate against the lack of cellulose.
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Lots of nutrients to offer
Orange juice, fresh and commercial, is rich in important nutrients. Keaney details benefits such as higher doses:
- Vitamin C which helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, produces collagen for the body to help heal wounds, and aids iron absorption when combined with iron-rich foods like oatmeal or spinach.
- potassium, which plays a role in kidney and heart function, muscle contraction and transmission of nerve impulses.
- Antioxidants such as flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C. They may protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
In addition, many companies fortify their orange juice:
- calcium, which helps with bone strength, blood clotting, muscle function and regulates normal heart rhythm and nerve function.
- Vitamin D helps the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus.
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Does mass production take away nutritional benefits?
Like many products in today’s supermarkets, orange juice goes through processing steps such as pasteurization to extend its shelf life. Luckily, according to Keaney, processing doesn’t change the nutritional content much.
“In fact, when fruits or vegetables are not pasteurized, they can have harmful bacteria in them,” she notes. “Although people can usually fight off foodborne illnesses, they can be especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems.”
Benefits go beyond nutrition
In addition to providing servings of essential vitamins and minerals, orange juice is also a good booster of overall health, according to Keaney. For example, it can help with:
- Stones in the kidneys. Orange juice contains citrate, which prevents the formation of urinary stones.
- Heart health. Because orange juice contains fiber, drinking orange juice (as well as soluble fiber from other sources such as oats, beans, Brussels sprouts, and apples) can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. One orange contains about 2 grams of soluble fiber, and 5-10 grams a day can lower LDL cholesterol levels.
- Inflammation. Research shows that eating fruits and vegetables can reduce inflammation and therefore reduce the risk of chronic disease.
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How to choose the perfect juice
There are some orange juice insider tips to help you get the most nutrients out of a glass.
She also cautions against choosing juice that says “50% fewer calories” on the label.
“They are 50% diluted with water, which means they contain half the nutrients,” she says, adding that including a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet can provide a variety of nutrients.
And finally, cellulose or not cellulose?
“Aim for juice with pulp,” Keaney begins. “The pulp contains fiber, which regulates the digestive system and keeps blood sugar levels more stable. If you eat a piece of fruit instead of drinking juice, your blood sugar levels will become even more stable!”