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Cancer Nutrition: A Nuanced Look at Orange Juice vs. Cola!

Image of a carton of orange juice, bottles and a can of cola and red boxing gloves

You might have come across a statement from someone in the nutrition world causing a bit of stir on social media. There was talk about orange juice needing a health warning and that cola might be a better choice – it caused quite a commotion in the nutrition community! In moments like these, it's a good opportunity to take a step back, understand the complexities of nutrition advice, and put things into perspective.


As a cancer nutritionist, I often find myself starting responses with 'it depends,' underlining the personalised aspect of dietary choices. The path of healthy eating becomes even more challenging with a cancer diagnosis, dealing with treatment side effects, and considering your unique circumstances.


Let's explore the world of these drinks together, looking at both the positives and the things to consider, helping you find what aligns with your individual needs and preferences.


Understanding the Landscape:

When we discuss 'fruit juice' and 'cola,' it's a broad spectrum, covering everything from freshly squeezed juices to concentrates and a variety of 'fruit drinks' that might have sweeteners, preservatives, colours, or flavourings. Cola, too, comes in different forms, with options including those with caffeine and without, and a range of sugar-containing or artificially sweetened choices.


As we consider what to choose, it goes beyond just the nutritional aspects. Your taste preferences, what's readily available, and the cost are all part of the decision-making process. It's all about making the right choice for you.


Individualised Cancer Nutrition:

Understanding what your body needs and can tolerate during different stages of cancer treatment is important. Things like dealing with treatment side effects, changes in taste, your appetite, and what you enjoy all play a big role in making choices about what to eat.


Some days, just being able to eat something feels like a huge win. It's essential to acknowledge and celebrate those small victories and go through this experience with kindness towards yourself. It makes things more manageable.


After completing the intense treatment phase, when you feel ready and it's right for you, the focus turns to protecting your overall health. This involves finding balance and making decisions that support your long-term well-being. A key aspect is reducing free sugar intake. Excessive sugar is linked to weight gain, a risk factor for some cancers, and considering the potential risks of chronic conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes in cancer survivorship highlights the importance of dietary choices.


Understanding Free Sugars: Recommendations and Considerations

The Government recommends that for a healthy lifestyle, it is best to keep free sugars to no more than five percent of your total daily calorie intake. This translates to around 30g or seven sugar cubes for adults. ‘Free sugars’ is a term used for all sugar added to foods or drinks. These sugars may be added by the food manufacturer, or by a chef, or at home.

It also includes sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and fruit juice. Importantly, the sugar found naturally in whole fruit doesn't count as free sugars. However, when fruit is turned into juice, the sugars come out of their cells and become free sugars. The fibre is lost, making it easier to consume extra sugar without realising. Think about it this way - you wouldn't typically eat three or four oranges in a row, but you might drink their juice in one glass of orange juice.


With an understanding of the considerations around free sugars, let's look at some of the pros and cons of drink choices like orange juice (fruit juice) and cola. Understanding these aspects will guide us in making mindful decisions that align with our health goals, especially during and after cancer treatment.




  • Contains vitamins, minerals, and protective plant compounds that are good for health.

  • 150ml of unsweetened fruit (or vegetable) juice can contribute to your 5-a-day, but only once. Unlike whole fruits and vegetables, juice lacks the fibre necessary for multiple servings.

  • Increasing your vitamin C intake during meals can enhance your body's absorption of iron from plant-based foods. While citrus juices such as orange contain vitamin C, you can opt for adding a squeeze of lemon or segments of orange to your greens or adding berries into your salads. These alternatives offer the same iron-boosting benefits without the free sugar found in fruit juices. This can be helpful if you're working on bolstering your iron levels.


  • While enjoying the occasional glass of fruit juice can be part of a balanced diet, it's important to dispel the misconception that consuming large quantities is a health-conscious choice. A standard 150ml serving typically contains 12-13g of free sugars. Juicing, by removing natural fibre, concentrates sugars and calories, which, over time, can contribute to excess calories, weight gain, and potential metabolic health concerns. Opting for whole fruits with their natural fibre not only helps regulate blood sugar levels but also promotes a sense of fullness, supporting a balanced and sustainable approach to your overall diet.




  • You might enjoy the taste.


  • A single can of sugar-containing fizzy drink often contains over 30g of free sugar, surpassing the recommended daily allowance in just one serving. Consuming sugar-sweetened drinks has been consistently linked to an increased risk of weight gain, overweight, and obesity. This is particularly significant as excess body fat is strongly associated with an elevated risk of at least 12 different types of cancers among adults, according to robust scientific evidence.

  • They typically lack essential nutrients and provide little to no nutritional value. They are often characterised by high levels of empty calories.

  • If you're concerned about your bone health: take note of advice from the Royal Osteoporosis Society – excessive cola consumption might not be the best choice for supporting your bones.




  • Contain little or no calories (if your goal is to reduce your total calorie intake).

  • For those managing their blood sugar levels, like individuals with diabetes, the majority of artificially sweetened fizzy drinks won't cause a spike in blood sugar level.


  • They may be overly sweet, potentially leading to increased cravings for sweet tastes in some people.

  • Emerging research suggests that artificial sweeteners might affect the balance of helpful bacteria in our digestive system (gut microbiome). But we need more human studies to fully understand this.

  • Sugar alcohol sweeteners, such as Xylitol, Mannitol, and Sorbitol, may cause digestive upset in some individuals.

  • While diet drinks are often calorie-free, they generally lack essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants crucial for overall health.

  • If bone health is a concern, it's worth considering advice from the Royal Osteoporosis Society – excessive cola consumption may not be the best choice for supporting your bones.


Rounding Up:

While whole fruits are the preferred choice for their valuable fibre and nutrients, if you enjoy 100% fruit juice, consider making it a healthier option. My advice would be to have a small amount with a meal or dilute it with water. If you're juicing at home, take the opportunity to enhance the nutritional profile by incorporating vegetables such as celery and cucumber, along with herbs like parsley. Alternatively, opt for smoothies where you retain more fibre, and have the flexibility to add ingredients like nuts, seeds, and avocado, reducing the overall free sugar load.


When it comes to fizzy drinks – how often are you having them? It's the habits we practice consistently that significantly impact our long-term health. If fizzy drinks are a regular part of your routine, it is important to be mindful of your daily free sugar intake. Transitioning to an artificially sweetened fizzy drink can serve as a positive step, providing a temporary alternative and the ultimate goal is to gradually embrace more nourishing choices. Check out some helpful suggestions listed here.


Your path to well-being reflects the nuanced and individual nature of nutritional choices, tailored uniquely to you and adapting to your specific needs and circumstances. Embrace the nourishing choices highlighted here that resonate with you, acknowledging that some days, even a simple choice is a victory.


If you or a loved one could benefit from personalised nutritional support and advice, please don't hesitate to get in touch.


Telephone: 020 8064 2865

Appointments: book here


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