What's Healthier, Oranges or Orange Juice?

OJ gets a bad rap for being packed with sugar, so we pitted the fruit and pulp against each other in a nutrition showdown

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If you like to start your a.m. with a big glass of OJ, you've probably heard the juice's bad rap: It's jam-packed with sugar-about 34 grams per 12 fluid ounce glass. (Don't be fooled by these 8 Healthy Foods with Crazy-High Sugar Counts either!) But there's good news! Juicing does have its benefits-and OJ could be more nutritious than plain ol' oranges, according to a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Researchers in Germany and Saudi Arabia compared the carotenoid, flavonoid, and vitamin C amounts in fresh orange segments, orange puree, and orange juice, and found the bioaccessibility-or amount of food available for your intestines to absorb-was higher for all of the nutrients in the OJ compared to those in the orange segments or the puree. The bioaccessibility of carotenoids increased three to four times while the flavonoids increased four to five times. There was also about a 10 percent increase in the bioaccessibility of vitamin C in the orange juice compared with the orange segments or puree.

So Could OJ Be Better for You?

For juice lovers, this study is good news-but don't stock up on bottles of OJ just yet. The study wasn't done on humans, but rather using test tubes and flasks to mimic digestion, so further research is needed (especially in humans!) to strengthen the findings. Even more: Oranges and products made from oranges naturally contain low amounts of both carotenoids and flavonoids. Similarly, small differences in flavonoids available may not be significant to your health.

Ultimately, the fruit itself may be the better bet-much of the fiber in oranges is lost during juicing. (Fiber doesn't need to be boring! Whip up one of these Healthy Recipes Featuring High-Fiber Foods.) If you look at the amount of fiber in juice compared to 1 cup of orange segments, it's 0.7 grams and 4.3 grams, respectively. That's a big difference! Further, many orange juice beverages contain added sugar and not much real juice. This is why it's important to always read the labels to ensure your juice is made from, well, 100 percent juice.

Determining the sugar differences between an orange and 100 percent orange juice is a little trickier too. A portion of OJ (1/2 cup) contains 10.5 grams of sugar. It takes 1 1/2 oranges to make 1/2 cup of orange juice-so whether you eat the fruit or drink the juice, you'll get the same amount of sugar. When you start gulping downs cups of OJ, though, sugar can absolutely get out of control. It's much easier to drink 2 cups of juice than to eat the six oranges it took to get the juice!

What's a Juice Lover to Do?

According to the USDA's My Plate, 1/2 cup of 100 percent juice can be counted toward your daily recommended amount of fruit. So, if you like a cup of OJ in the morning, that should be your daily max. The remainder of your daily fruit should come fresh, frozen, or canned, so you can reap the fiber benefits and keep sugar under control.

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