Don't be fooled by fruit juice

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

July 2006

There are a couple of reasons why Stone-Agers never drank fruit juice. The kind of fruit that helped to sustain humans prior to the Agricultural Revolution — and for some time afterward — wasn't much good for making juice. It was small, seedy, fibrous and thick-skinned and it bore no resemblance to the plump, glistening, sugary types that look so good at the supermarket. Modern farmers breed fruit for eye appeal, sweetness and juiciness. We have become accustomed to seedless grapes, watermelon and citrus, which are dead-ends in the plant kingdom because they can't reproduce naturally.

What would they have stored the juice in during the Stone Age? Pottery wasn't invented until about 10,000 years ago. Before that they used hollowed-out wood, animal skins and skulls, shells, etc. Juice wouldn't keep long without refrigeration but that's probably how some curious ancestor of ours discovered adult beverages.

A reasoning prehistoric man or woman would be puzzled by the illogic of fruit juice but then, treats don't have to be logical. Preparing juice by hand is strenuous and wasteful, yielding perhaps one-third or less of the volume of the original fruit. Compared to whole fruit it contains much less fiber, a substance that our bodies need in roughly ten times the amount that our modern diet provides.

The most recent couple of generations of humans have carried illogic even further: fruit drinks that contain no true fruit product at all. These mixtures of water, flavoring and high-fructose corn syrup are nutritional voids except for what some market-savvy manufacturers add to "enrich" them. The current epidemics of obesity and diabetes seem to coincide with the advent of an enormous infusion of high-fructose corn syrup — a remarkably cheap sweetener — into the modern diet. Liquid calories do not trigger our appetite-limiting reflexes so we take in more calories than we use. They simply don't give us a sense of fullness as solid foods do. This is no surprise; our bodies evolved for millions of years before liquid foods came on the scene.

Water was the Stone-Agers' beverage of choice simply because they had no other. If that seems dull to you, try adding a squeeze of lemon, a sprig of mint or a few ice cubes made from (natural) apple or cranberry juice.

Fruit drinks are not good substitutes for milk or water in children's diets. Even those that consist of 100 percent juice are too sweet and condition the child to develop a preference for unhealthy soft drinks later in life. We might be setting the stage for future osteoporosis. In the 1970s the average teenager drank twice as much milk as soft drinks. The ratio is now just the reverse and 90 percent of adolescent girls don't get enough calcium during the years in which they should be accumulating bone mass.

Juicing is a popular fad among adults but some of its enthusiasts overdo the health claims. For persons who enjoy getting a couple of servings of fruits and vegetables in a single convenient smoothie it's better than not getting enough.

But would a Stone Ager do it?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.