Glass of orange juice with plenty of sugar cubes
  • Orange juice may seem like a healthier option than a can of soft drink.
  • But many brands on South African supermarket shelves contain as much sugar as a Coke or Pepsi – and only traces of vitamin C.
  • Although some have added vitamin C during the production process, no leading brand has more than a glass of freshly squeezed juice.
  • Here's how several leading brands of orange juice stack up on the vitamin C and sugar fronts.
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Nutritionally, processed orange juice isn’t much healthier for you than a glass of a typical soft drink. At best, it may contain a few added vitamins and a couple of grams less sugar - at worst, it contains more sugar than vitamin C.

Much of the perceived health benefits of a glass of orange are little more than the result of what some call a healthy eating halo effect - a cognitive bias, often pounced on by food and drink manufacturers to increase sales. In the United States, where a glass of orange juice was considered a breakfast staple for years, many are starting to turn away from it, as awareness grows over its limited nutritional value.

Although winter usually marks an increase in the sale of orange juice, and Covid-19 gave citrus sales an extra boost in 2020, research suggests that the beverage has little impact on helping you recover from colds or flu.

Most orange juices are also loaded with sugar - the most sugar-rich orange juice that Business Insider South Africa identified contains as much sugar as drinks like Coke and Pepsi. This high sugar content, some studies suggest, may actually do more harm than good when fighting winter bugs.

In spite of this, many orange juice manufacturers go to lengths to push the supposed health benefits, or at least tacitly elude to them. Most orange and fruit juices in South Africa make clear mention of the presence of vitamins - most notably vitamin C - on the packaging of their drinks, presumably as a way to advertise some degree of healthiness.

Oranges, in their original state, are a good source of vitamin C - but the process of producing orange juice that can sit on shelves for months or years may degrade this nutritional value. 

According to the Food and Allergy Consulting and Testing Services (FACTS), based in Stellenbosch, most commercial fruit juice is made from hydrated juice concentrates. During the extraction, filtration, clarification, concentration, and reconstitution processes, many of the nutrients naturally present in fruit juice are lost. 

One study also found that ready to serve orange juices typically contain 25% less vitamin C per serving than frozen concentrates, partly due to heat destroying naturally occurring vitamin C. 

For this reason, many manufacturers enrich their drinks with vitamins after they’ve concluded the processing phases, and then list this prominently on their packaging, and on their nutritional labels. Some brands don't bother with this step, and have no vitamin C in them at all.

Although the high sugar content, and drinking processed and reconstituted fruit juice, is far from the most effective and healthiest way to receive a dose of vitamin C, all orange juices Business Insider SA looked at have significantly less than the 48mg of vitamin C per 100ml present in a freshly squeezed orange. And three have more sugar in them than they do vitamin C.

At least two orange juices had no vitamin C in them - despite both being called "100%" orange juice.

Here’s how vitamin C and sugar levels of South Africa’s leading brands of orange juice stack up:

Comparison of orange juice vitamin C and sugar con
Comparison of orange juice vitamin C and sugar content.

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