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

Updated: May 23


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 really 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' highlighting 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 own unique circumstances.


Let's take a closer look at these drinks together, considering both the positives and the factors to keep in mind, to help you find what fits your needs and preferences.


Exploring the World of Fruit Juice and Cola:

When we talk about 'fruit juice' and 'cola,' we are referring to a wide range of drinks. Fruit juice can be freshly squeezed, concentrated, or various 'fruit drinks' with added sweeteners, preservatives, colours, or flavours. Similarly, cola comes in different forms, with or without caffeine, and with various sugar or artificial sweetener options.

 

When deciding what to drink, it's not just about nutrition. Your taste preferences, what's easy to find, and the cost all influence your decision. Ultimately, it's about choosing what's best for you.

 

Individualised Cancer Nutrition:

Understanding what your body can tolerate and what you find appealing during different phases of cancer treatment is crucial. Each person's experience is individual, and factors such as treatment side effects, changes in taste, variations in appetite, and your personal food preferences all play a role in determining the best dietary choices for you.

 

While it's important to strive for healthy choices whenever possible, it is equally important to acknowledge that some days, simply being able to consume anything at all can feel like a monumental victory! It's okay to prioritise nourishing yourself, regardless of nutritional ideals. Approach these moments with self-compassion as it makes things just a bit more manageable.

 

As you progress through treatment, recovery, and transition into the post-treatment phase, the focus shifts toward safeguarding your overall health. This involves finding balance and making choices that support your long-term well-being. Paying attention to your sugar intake is particularly important, as excessive consumption is associated with weight gain, a risk factor for some cancers. Additionally, considering the potential long-term risks of conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes in cancer survivorship highlights the importance of making informed 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 teaspoons of sugar 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 does not 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.

 

FRUIT JUICE

PRO’S:

  • 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.


CONS:

  • While enjoying the occasional glass of fruit juice can be part of a balanced diet, it is important to dispel the misconception that consuming large quantities of fruit juice is a health-conscious choice. A standard 150ml serving typically contains as much as 12-13g of free sugar. 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.

 

SUGAR-CONTAINING FIZZY DRINKS

PRO's:

  • You might enjoy the taste.


CONS:

  • A single can of sugar-containing fizzy drink often contains over 30g of free sugar, that's exceeding the recommended daily allowance in just ONE serving!

  • Regularly consuming sugar-sweetened drinks, like cola, can have significant health impacts. These beverages are high in sugar, causing rapid spikes in blood sugar levels and increased insulin production. Over time, this can lead to issues such as insulin resistance, inflammation, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, frequent consumption of sugary drinks has been linked to an increased risk of weight gain, overweight, and obesity. Excess body fat is strongly associated with a higher 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.

 

ARTIFICIALLY SWEETENED FIZZY DRINKS

PRO's:

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

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

CONS:

  • 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:

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 feeling better is about making food choices that match your needs and preferences. Choose the healthy options mentioned here that feel right for you, knowing that even small choices can be a win on some days.


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



The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be considered personalised nutrition, dietetic, or medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for personalised advice and guidance regarding your specific medical condition or dietary needs.


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