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What? Not my orange juice!

When you buy orange juice do you seek out the healthiest option? Maybe one “not from concentrate” or with “no additives”? Maybe one “with extra pulp” or “100% juice”? The healthiest, most natural choice you can find, right? Have you considered that store-bought orange juice may not be healthy at all? The orange juice you think is the healthiest option is probably none of those things.

When orange juice is mass produced, not only is it unhealthy, it isn’t even really juice. “Not from concentrate” juice goes through extensive processing. “It’s really in the storage that a lot of the processing goes on,” said Alissa Hamilton, the author of Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice. “They strip the juice of oxygen so that the juice doesn’t go bad in these tanks where they keep it. And the juice can actually sit in the tanks for upwards of a year.” That’s all before it arrives on grocery store shelves. When you make orange juice yourself, each time it tastes a little different. Ever wonder why each brand of orange juice always tastes the same? If you choose Minute Maid, or whichever brand you prefer, it never matters where you get it or what time of year you buy it. That brand always tastes the same. So why is the taste so consistent? Read on... Wouldn’t you think making orange juice is simple? Squeeze oranges, package the juice and send it on to the stores. What really happens is an altogether different process. Yes, the oranges are picked and squeezed. The juice, however, would spoil if it was shipped out fresh, due to oxygen exposure. So it’s first deoxidized. But this completely removes the “orange” taste, leaving behind what is basically just sugared water. It’s kept in giant holding tanks and can be stored up to a year without spoiling. This stuff does not taste like real O.J. It’s bitter and strong. Real orange juice is mild in flavor. So they add natural and artificial perfumes and taste agents to make it taste the way you think real juice should taste. Fragrance companies responsible for the same formulas used in perfumes develop taste concoctions that we recognize as orange juice. Each juice brand has its own “flavor pack,” which is why it has a recognizable and consistent flavor. This is why fresh orange juice you squeeze yourself tastes so different from the “pure” orange juices you buy at the store.

Industry insiders will tell you the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. They’re also chemically differentiated to target specific geographic markets. For example, additives earmarked for the juice sold in North American markets contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice. Manufacturers know Americans prefer it. Mexicans and Brazilians have a different palate. Flavor packs designed for juice sold in those markets highlight different chemicals to produce flavors preferred by those consumers. Flavor packs are not listed as ingredients on labels because, technically, they’re derived from orange essence and oil. They’re allowed to be used because they initially came from orange peel but are so chemically altered they hardly qualify as by-products anymore. Remember, truly fresh orange juice only lasts a few days. If it lasts for weeks (or months), it is indeed an industrial product. For all these reasons, you may now understand why store-bought juice isn’t particularly natural or healthy. There’s more. Each eight-ounce glass of orange juice contains about eight teaspoons of sugar. The sugar in orange juice is typically a fruit sugar called fructose. Although it’s often believed fructose is a “healthy” form of sugar, it’s every bit as dangerous as regular refined table sugar since it, too, results in spikes in insulin levels. Diabetes has been linked to drinking fruit juices. [Do we have a citation for that?] Sure, that sugar jolt in the morning is a big lift, but it’s also big drop afterwards when blood sugars plummet in response to the insulin surge. Yes, there’s vitamin C in orange juice, but the benefit hardly outweighs the downside of the sugar intake. If you must have your morning orange juice then eat a real orange. Or, try some broccoli, red bell peppers or kale. They’re actually better and healthier vitamin C choices. Leave the “healthy and natural” containers of orange juice on the store shelves.

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