Don’t be fooled by fruit juice’s wholesome reputation: It turns out it’s just as unhealthy as sugary sodas when consumed in excess.

That’s the conclusion of a team from Emory University that recently analyzed data to determine the relative effects of juice drinking on the lifespans of older adults.

“Juice is sugar and water. There are some vitamins and minerals, but it’s basically a sugary beverage.”
Jean Welsh
Emory University

The researchers looked at a set of data collected by REGARDS (The REasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke) that surveyed 13,440 adults over the course of six years. The subjects were 45 or older at the start of the study; the average age was 64.

Of the participants, 71% were overweight or obese, and 1,168 died during the course of the study: Those deaths included 168 attributed to coronary heart disease and 1,000 attributed to other causes.

Initiated in 2003, REGARDS is based at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health and funded in part by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Parsing the REGARDS data, the Emory team compared the relative mortality rates of subjects who drank one 12-ounce daily serving or less of fruit juice or sugar-sweetened beverages to those who drank more than one serving.

It also compared the death rates of subjects who drank those greater daily amounts of juice and sugary beverages, and it analyzed the long-term effects of each additional daily serving.

Bottom line: Those subjects who regularly drank sugary beverages, including “100% fruit juice,” had a higher risk of an earlier death. Consumed on a daily basis, each individual 12-ounce drink only increased those odds.

“We need to think about juice as a sugary beverage,” study author Jean Welsh, associate professor at Emory University, told Considerable. “Juice is sugar and water. There are some vitamins and minerals, but it’s basically a sugary beverage.

“It’s important people understand that they have to be cautious about how much they drink.”

Whole fruits, however, or juicing fruit yourself, is much better for you and doesn’t have the same adverse health effects, the researchers said.

To help kick a sugary fruit juice craving, try sugar-free seltzers or unsweetened iced teas.

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