What’s breakfast without orange juice? The average American drinks more than two gallons of the fruit juice every year.
But does the mass production process that transforms oranges into cartons on your grocery shelf squeeze out its nutritional value?
Melissa Keeney, a Hartford HealthCare registered dietitian nutritionist in Westport, breaks down the effects of processing, the nutrients that OJ offers and weighs in on the age-old pulp vs. no pulp debate.
Many nutrients to offer
Orange juice, fresh and commercial, is rich in important nutrients. Keeney details such benefits as increased doses of:
- Vitamin C, which helps protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals, makes collagen for the body to help wounds heal, and help with iron absorption when combined with an iron-rich food like oatmeal or spinach.
- Potassium, which has a role in kidney and heart function, muscle contraction and nerve transmission.
- Antioxidants like flavonoids, carotenoids and vitamin C. These may protect against chronic health conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
In addition, many companies enrich their orange juice with:
- Calcium, which helps with bone strength, blood clotting, muscle function and regulating normal heart rhythm and nerve function.
- Vitamin D to help the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus.
Does mass production take away from the nutritional benefits?
Like many other products in today’s supermarket, orange juice undergoes processing steps, like pasteurization, to extend its shelf life. Fortunately, the processing does not change the nutritional value much, according Keeney.
“In fact, when fruits or vegetables are not pasteurized, they may have harmful bacteria,” she notes. “While people can usually fight off a foodborne illness, it can be particularly dangerous for people with weakened immune systems.”
The benefits don’t stop at nutrition
In addition to providing servings of necessary vitamins and minerals, Keeney says orange juice is a good boost for overall health. For example, it can help with:
- Kidney stones. Orange juice contains citrate, which inhibits the formation of urinary stones.
- Heart health. As orange juice contains fiber, drinking it (as well as soluble fiber from other sources like oats, beans, Brussel sprouts and apples) can reduce the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. One orange has about 2 grams of soluble fiber, and 5-10 grams daily can decrease LDL cholesterol.
- Inflammation. Research shows that eating fruits and vegetable can decrease inflammation and, therefore, reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
How to pick the perfect juice
There are a few insider tips on orange juice to ensure you’re getting the most nutrition possible in your glass.
She also cautions against choosing a juice that proclaims “50% less calories” on its label.
“They are diluting with 50% water, meaning it has half the nutrition as well,” she says, adding that including a variety of fruits and vegetables to your diet can offer a variety of nutrients.
And finally, pulp or no pulp?
“Aim for juice with pulp in it,” Keeney begins. “The pulp contains fiber, which regulates the digestive system and keeps blood sugars more stable. Eating a piece of fruit rather than drinking the juice will keep blood sugars even more stable!”