Is Fruit Juice Healthier Than Soda?

It all comes down to the amount of sugar in these popular beverages.

woman drinking orange juice

Updated on May 4, 2022.

You’ve probably heard that soda isn't the healthiest beverage. Known for its high sugar content, research suggests that the sweet and bubbly stuff can contribute to kidney stone formation, tooth decay, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.

Many people looking for a sweet sip turn instead to fruit juice, believing it’s a healthier alternative. But know this: Many fruit juices have just as much sugar as your average soda, if not more.

For example, 8 ounces of cranberry juice has about 33 grams of sugar, whereas 8 ounces of standard Coca-Cola has 26 grams of sugar. Even 100 percent fruit juice can have more calories than a can of soda.

Sugar and your health

Sugary beverages like fruit juice, soda, and sports drinks are consistently in high demand in the United States. In fact, on any given day, about half the U.S. population will gulp a sugary drink. And that's not all: For 25 percent of the population, at least 200 daily calories come from sugary beverages.

Food manufacturers and marketers know this, and often attempt to disguise a drink’s sugar content. So, when you read a product’s nutrition label, look for these tell-tale ingredients, which are often used as sweeteners: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, evaporated cane juice, and words that rhyme with “gross” (more specifically dextrose, fructose, and maltose).

Why should you be on the lookout for secret sugars? In short, they can be dangerous to your health.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that these added sugars should only make up no more than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake. Exceeding this amount on a daily basis may increase your chances of weight gain, tooth decay, and heart disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends leaving juice off the menu until kids turn 1. Between the ages of 1 and 2, the USDA advises that most fruit intake should come from whole fruit, rather than juice. If a toddler does drink juice, it should be 100 percent fruit juice (without added sugar) and should be limited to 4 ounces per day. Even then, a better choice for growing bodies and teeth is plain water.

So if juice and soda won’t do your body any favors, what are some alternatives that offer health-enhancing benefits?

Jazz up your water

Simple H20 is the surest bet to quench your thirst and improve your health. It helps your body maintain a regular temperature, keeps tissues hydrated, and helps gets rid of waste through sweat and urination. Plus, it keeps you from consuming extra calories, as well as many artificial sugars, which have been found to contribute to obesity.

If you don’t like water's lack of flavor—or just want to switch it up—try adding lemons or limes. You can also make your own naturally-flavored water. Simply combine these ingredients, let them sit in refrigerated water overnight, and enjoy chilled the next day:

  • Strawberry and cucumber
  • Orange and blueberry
  • Watermelon and mint

Other alternatives

Another great substitute for fruit juice, especially after exercising, is coconut water. It rebalances electrolyte and carbohydrate levels, which is helpful after working up a sweat. Coconut water also has many antioxidants and is high in potassium, an electrolyte that moderates sodium’s effects on the body (which can include raising blood pressure). Just be sure to check the label of your favorite coconut water for added sugar.

Do you enjoy iced tea? Swap out artificially sweetened iced tea for kombucha, a black tea fermented with bacteria and yeast. It's rich with nutrients and may help increase the biodiversity of bacteria in your gut, which could aid digestion.

Note, however, that the kind of kombucha that helps gut bacteria contains a small amount of alcohol (0.05 percent by volume, compared to 5 percent in a regular 12-ounce beer) and is generally unpasteurized, which can carry risks of contamination, especially for pregnant women and others with compromised immune systems.

By choosing beverages like these over fruit juice, you'll save calories—and maybe even improve your health. Something to keep in mind next time you’re in the beverage aisle at the supermarket.

Article sources open article sources

Chapman CL, Grigoryan T, Vargas NT, et al. High-fructose corn syrup-sweetened soft drink consumption increases vascular resistance in the kidneys at rest and during sympathetic activation. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2020;318(4):F1053-F1065.
Halberg SE, Visek AJ, Blake EF, Essel KD, Sacheck J, Sylvetsky AC. SODA MAPS: A Framework for Understanding Caffeinated Sugary Drink Consumption Among Children. Front Nutr. 2021;8:640531. Published 2021 Mar 10.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source: Sugary Drinks. Accessed April 26, 2022.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Water and Healthier Drinks. Page last reviewed: March 16, 2022.

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