Orange Juice Kills (Not)
So, this was the headline of a recent article in The Times of London:
One small glass of juice a day linked to cancer risk
A daily small glass of orange juice could increase the risk of cancer, research has suggested.
Recklessness in the mainstream media yet again. People should stop drinking orange juice? Really? We don’t think so. While there are good reasons why some people may benefit from drinking less fruit juice (which we will explain below), cancer risk is most definitely not one of the reasons. At least there is zero reliable scientific evidence that it is.
We do know that orange juice contains fructose, a quickly digested sugar. We know that fruit juices are less satiating than whole fruit, as are most liquid calories. In other words, it’s easy to drink a lot of orange juice (and consume a lot of calories) without your brain sending “I’m full now” signals to your body. As a result, it’s easy to drink far more than your body needs. We know that when you are in a calorie surplus, you gain weight. If you gain too much weight, you become obese. And, we know that obesity does cause cancer.
So, there you have the truth: If you drink so much orange juice that you become obese, your risk of cancer goes up significantly. But so too will it go up if you eat too much of anything and become obese.
People seeking fat loss often have better results when they eat foods that are more satiating than orange juice. The most satiating foods are those that are less calorie dense (think vegetables), or that have a lot of fibre (think whole grains), or that contain predominantly protein (think chicken and fish). Believe it or not, a jacket potato is among the most satiating foods per calorie (until you add butter, soured cream and bacon). So, if you are dieting to lose fat, skipping or cutting back on the orange juice could be a good idea.
Diabetics may have reason to drink less orange juice, and instead eat more food with complex carbohydrates that take longer to become blood sugar. Diabetics are insulin insensitive, meaning they can retain sugar in their blood far longer than non-diabetics. They are prone to hyperglycemia (too much sugar in the blood), which can lead to many different adverse health issues and even death. Yet even for diabetics, orange juice need not be off the menu, unless so advised by your doctor or registered dietician.
A healthy person can eat sugar without concern in reasonable quantities as part of a balanced diet. Sugar is simply a fast absorbing carbohydrate. One gram of pure sugar contains four calories, as does one gram of any other carbohydrate (like the carbohydrate in a potato or in broccoli). While sugar has a higher glycemic index (becomes blood sugar more quickly) than more complex carbohydrates, it just does not matter if you are healthy and your overall diet is balanced. Contrary to widely publicized pseudoscience, sugar does not cause diabetes. Obesity and inactivity cause diabetes.
Back to The Times.
The article itself goes on to admit a few important points. The study under examination considered sugar consumption, rather than just orange juice. It was an observational study, meaning it cannot prove causation. The article even admits that if a yet-unproven causal link actually did exist, it is probably because people who eat too much sugar can become obese, and obesity causes cancer.
Though the article itself is sound (and even interesting), the headline is irresponsible and cannot be defended on any grounds.
All this said, it is possible (though in our opinion, unlikely) that future research will prove a direct link between sugar consumption and cancer (or perhaps between large or frequent fluctuations in blood sugar levels and cancer). Until it does, if you love orange juice, by all means drink it in moderation, and read your morning paper with a large grain of salt.