The link between sugary drinks and certain health risks, such as obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease has been well-established in the medical world, as are the devastating effects of added sugar on one’s health, linking it to cancer and tumor growth. Still, when sugar is naturally present in a fruit, it must be healthier and so drinking 100% natural juice is OK, right? Well, the answer to that question is complicated.
While there is a general consensus that naturally-occurring sugars found in dairy and plant-based foods are more nutritious and better for you than added sugars, it turns out that natural sugars, too, can harm our bodies in the long term. This is especially apparent in concentrated products, such as syrups and juices, which, despite being absolutely natural, can have adverse effects similar to sugary drinks on our health, even when they contain no added sugar.
A particularly interesting example showcasing this effect is a recent large scale French observational study investigating the cancer risks linked to sweet beverages. 101.257 French adults of the average age of 42 years participated in the study, and the experiment looked at how drinking different sweet drinks affected their risks of getting different types of cancer over a period of 9 years.
The types of drinks included in the survey were:
- Soft drinks
- Fruit beverages
- 100% fruit juices with no added sugar
- Energy drinks
- Milk-based beverages
- Sports drinks
- Diet soft drinks
- Sugar-free syrups
- Diet milk-based drinks.
During the 9-year observation period, 2.193 participants developed some form of cancer. Of these, there were 693 cases of breast cancer, 291 prostate cancer, and 166 colorectal cancer. The analysis of the study results has shown that a 100 ml (3.4 oz) increase of sugary drinks raised one’s risk of cancer by 18%, and of breast cancer in particular by 22%.
The experimenters then looked at only the effect of 100% juices on cancer risks and found that participants who drank it were more likely to get cancer (particularly breast cancer, but not colorectal cancer or prostate cancer) than the controls. Only the consumption of diet drinks wasn’t correlated with increased cancer risks, but the authors point out that this is likely because the “diet drink group” consumed very little sweet beverages compared to the other groups, so we should take those particular findings with a grain of salt.
So let’s unpack all of this information: the study concluded that drinking sweet beverages of any kind can increase the risk of cancer. These findings are alarming, as sweet drinks are so popular and many of us have a bottle of orange juice sitting in the fridge right now.
One last point that's necessary to point out is that the participants studied in this experiment were quite young and health-conscious, which means that the risks for an average consumer may be even higher than what was mentioned in the study. And while we wait for more research to come up on this subject, secretly hoping they will legitimize our juice cravings, we might as well replace that bottle of OJ in the fridge with some plain old water.