Juicing? You’re just drinking sugar

Do you juice? Do you start your day with the roar of a Vitamix, the howl of a Nutribullet, the pulverising whir of a blender as blueberries, coconut and mango are pulped and sieved? Do you thrill to the blood sugar boost, the vitamins coursing through your system, the hit of morning mashed banana? And, as you gulp, do you ever stop to think what a daily super juice might be doing to your teeth?

Juice, we are told, is the elixir of life. It is no longer enough to give an orange a good going over with a fork you need a £649.95 Vitamix blender to ‘unlock the potential of every ingredient!’ pith, pips, peel and all. Bookshops are ripe with juicy titles: Juiceman; Juicemaster; Plenish; Crazy, Sexy Juice; Juice, Cleanse, Heal, Revitalise: 100 Nourishing Recipes and Simple Juice Fasts. This last one, by pulchritudinous former model Rosemary Ferguson, promises a flat tummy (‘Bloat Away!’ juice), a cheerful countenance (‘Jolly Juice’) and a dewy complexion (‘Fountain of Pineapple Youth’ juice). If I could stomach a beetroot and garlic juice, I, too, could look like Rosemary.

Can’t be bothered with coring and de-stoning? Any number of firms will deliver a cool-box of juices to your doorstep each morning for a week-long ‘juice cleanse.’ Detox your gut with Radiance Cleanse, Raw To Door and Raw & Juicy.  Or try a Pressed Greens juice at Marks & Spencer (Romanesco broccoli, celery, grape, parsley, kale, spirulina and lime), a Meaner Green from Pret a Manger (apple, spinach, Romaine lettuce, cucumber, celery) or a Super Purple from Savse (beetroot, apple, lemon, lime, mango, avocado, coconut).

Some of this has already been debunked. Your gut cannot be sluiced clean by drinking the contents of Mr McGregor’s vegetable garden, nor will a blueberry, banana and almond milk smoothie do much good for waistlines or blood sugar levels. What is neglected, though, in the debate about sugary juices and smoothies is what effect these drinks have on our teeth.

Sugar is sugar is sugar and while you may congratulate yourself on substituting a chocolate bar for an Innocent Bright Spark juice (orange, apple, carrot, lemon, ginger) that 330ml bottle contains 25.7g of sugar and plenty of fruit acid.

‘The messages about fruit and fruit juice are quite confusing,’ says Dr Zoe Marshman, Reader in Dental Public Health at the University of Sheffield. ‘In the press there is lots about the benefits of juicing, but very little about what it does to dental health.’

She explains that while we have learnt to be wary about so-called ‘fruit-juice drinks’ (Ribena and Capri-Sun, for example – ‘really do try to avoid them if possible’) there is a perception that freshly squeezed fruit juices are more benign. But the sugar and acid in fresh fruit juices and smoothies do still contribute to the wearing away of tooth enamel and to the formation of dental cavities.

Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, is particularly concerned about the quantity of fruit juice given to young children. ‘Well-meaning middle-class mothers send their kids off to school with fruit juices and smoothies that may have more sugar than cola. Some of these drinks can contain half our daily recommended sugar intake.’ The only really tooth-safe drinks for children and adults, says Dr Carter, are water and milk.

Dr Uchenna Okoye, Clinical Director at the London Smiling Dental Group, says it would be best not to give young children juice at all. ‘Just give them water. No child is born craving juice. No juice, no nothing until they get to school.’ If you don’t give them the early taste for it, the clamour for sugar won’t be there when they start making their own choices about food and drink.

If you must have fruit juice, says Dr Okoye, dilute, dilute, dilute. One part juice to nine parts water. And drink less of it. A small Bananarama drink from Crussh contains 42.1g of sugar, a medium 55.8g and a large 84.3g. The NHS recommended daily sugar intake is 30g. Dr Marshman says that if you are going to drink juice you should restrict yourself to 150ml a day with mealtimes – that’s about half a small tumbler glass.

Bananas are particularly bad for our teeth. They are added to commercial smoothies and juices to give them body and make them pleasingly ‘gloopy.’ Dr Carter says that the trouble with gloop is that it keeps the drink in contact with our teeth for longer thereby doing more damage to enamel.

Dr Marshman also warns of bananas hidden in green juices. We may start with the best of intentions as we pile spinach and kale into the blender, ‘but the vegetables do not taste as good or look as nice, so people tend to throw in a few strawberries and a banana and before you know it you’ve just got a slightly greener version of a fruit smoothie.’

A true green juice, says Dr Carter, is likely to be better for your teeth as vegetables don’t tend to be acidic or sugary, but ‘you’d be far better having the vegetables whole than mashing them up and losing the fibre.’ As a general principle, it is better to eat fruit and vegetables whole rather than macerate them. Dr Okoye explains that the sugar and acids in liquid form are better able to work their way into the gaps between our teeth where they can cause most damage.

Watch out, too, for that other great fad drink coconut water which is added to many green juices as a sweetener. ‘If you are drinking coconut milk or coconut water you are still drinking a lot of sugar relative to water,’ says Dr Marshman.

Curiously, the Americans, while they may outweigh us on the scales, tend to have better dental health and lower rates of tooth erosion. Dr Carter puts this down to two factors. They tend to drink their sugary drinks through straws therefore bypassing the teeth (though not the gut) and they have their drinks with masses of ice. Extreme cold reduces the titratability of acid (the extent to which it is corrodes.) ‘If the acidic drink is cold,’ says Dr Carter, ‘served in a great big bucket of ice as they do in the States, it will cause less damage to teeth.’

Nevertheless, says, Dr Marshman diluting juice, drinking it through a straw, serving it on ice ‘is a distraction from the point that we – especially children – just shouldn’t drink them.’ Dr Okoye agrees: ‘At some point you do have to realise: I am just drinking sugar.’


  • Billyboy

    The fact that you have to write this article at all demonstrates the woeful state of scientific education in this country.

    • davidofkent

      It’s the advertising, isn’t it?

  • Callipygian

    And… Americans have more money for sophisticated dental care — annnnddd they drink fluoridated water.