Years ago I worked with a coach who used to tell clients “juice is a polite way of saying soda, muffin is a polite way of saying cake.” In my opinion it was a clever way of explaining that the difference between certain foods being healthy, and others not, is only in our perception. He was right, the real difference between many foods is only our bias of them. The only problem was that he was making the point that juice and soda are unequivocally the same: Bad for you. To that point, he was wrong, because almost no food can be put into a category of “good or bad” and instead should go under the category of “useful or not useful.”
The Desert Scenario
This is a question I pose to clients all the time when they ask me if a certain food is bad for them:
“If you were stranded in the desert and hadn’t eaten for days and someone presented you some (insert food in question here…usually pasta, candy, etc…) Would you eat it?”
Everyone always answers “yes.” The next question I ask is “why” and it is then, that the idea of foods being useful or not useful begins to make sense to them. Our bodies need calories to survive, and truthfully it almost doesn’t matter where those calories come from. One of the ways humans have been able to become the dominant species on the planet is our ability to adapt to a wide variety of environments, and that includes the foods available to us. Our bodies need calories, carbs, proteins, and fats in various quantities and at various times.
Think of what you consider to be the “unhealthiest food” imaginable, and now realize that if you were literally starving, that “unhealthy food” would literally save your life.
So where does juice come in? Let me explain…
Creating Calorie Deficits
A few years ago, a friend who was never much of a fitness guy decided he wanted to lose some weight. After doing a little reading, he decided to switch from regular soda to diet, and proceeded to lose about 15lbs without changing any other habits. His conclusion? Regular Soda makes you fat. But in reality what had happened was he had created a calorie deficit by removing a few hundred calories a day from his diet. Let’s assume for a minute he ate his dinner with a side of mashed potatoes every night, and decided instead of ditching soda, to ditch the potatoes instead. The result would have been the same.
This is the same reason juice gets a bad wrap. You can drink a glass of orange juice in a matter of seconds, and drive done a hundred or so calories, and likely not put a dent into your level of hunger. There is nothing inherently bad about the calories from juice other than, they’re not likely to satiate you, which makes them easy to add to an over consumption of calories.
Prior to smartphones, cutting liquid calories from your diet would be an easy way to consume less total calories, but now armed with easy means of tracking your total calorie intake, as long as you have the self control to not eat anymore once you’ve hit your daily limit, there’s no reason to remove liquid calories from your diet if you enjoy a glass of juice or even a…*gasp* soda!
What about the sugar?!
Sugar is in the hot seat in fitness right now. Everything old is new, give it time, and fats will be the bad guy again in a few years. Sometimes you might hear someone say “sugar is more addicting than cocaine!” This statement is 100% correct, but is effectively like saying “oxygen is more addicting than heroin!” This is because glucose (aka sugar) is literally fuel for our brains. Our bodies crave sugar and carbs, because they are essential to human life. Sugar is so important, that if you don’t need any, your body will steal proteins from your muscles and turn them into sugars. This happens in the liver in a process known as gluconeogenesis.
Another argument often encountered is that the concentration of juice when bottled is equivalent to eating a dozen apples or (insert random number) of oranges. The point being made is that we would never eat that much of the fruit in its whole form. This is again completely true, and again completely meaningless to say. I ask these same people how much oil comes out of a coconut when you squeeze it? Basically none. In fact you need roughly 20 coconuts to make 1 liter of coconut oil. How about almond milk? or olive oil?
The Real Meaning of Healthy
The Truth is, there is no actual definition of “healthy” foods. To a vegan meat is the unhealthiest thing you can eat. If you follow the keto diet, you’ll consume A LOT of meat. There are dozens and dozens of contradictory examples just like this. In reality, the human body can not only survive, but thrive on a wide variety of foods. Processed or otherwise.
What the human body cannot do, is infinitely burn calories. Any food, regardless of how “healthy” you make think it is, cannot be consumed in excess without gaining weight, and at a certain point, gaining weight is extremely detrimental to your health.
So if you enjoy a glass of juice or the occasional soda, go for it, as long as you aren’t going over your body’s daily total calorie needs, you’re going to be just fine.