What Happens To Your Body When You Drink Orange Juice Every Day

If you love washing your breakfast down with a big glass of orange juice (or a mimosa or two during weekend brunch), you're not alone. Between 2018 and 2019, the average American drank 2.54 gallons of orange juice annually. That sounds like a lot, but it's less than half the amount we were drinking just 20 years earlier. At that time, per-capita OJ consumption was a whopping 5.18 gallons (via Statista).

Why are Americans drinking fewer glasses of orange juice than in the past? According to The Atlantic, part of it stems from increased interest in more exotic fruit juices (like mango or guava), while another part has to do with changing perceptions of orange juice as a healthy beverage option. Orange juice has been marketed as a "health drink" since the 1920s, and while it's a great source of vitamin C and many other micronutrients, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about OJ's calories, sugar content, and the extensive processing this supposedly "fresh" product undergoes. So what, exactly, might happen to your body if you drink orange juice every day? Let's take a look.

Drinking orange juice is a great way to stay hydrated

If you find the taste of plain water, well, plain, orange juice may be a more appealing and equally hydrating option. In a 2016 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers tested 13 common beverages to determine how they affected hydration levels. They measured urine output and fluid balance for four hours after subjects drank each beverage. They concluded that individuals' response to drinking orange juice was identical to their response after drinking water.

The reason orange juice is as hydrating as water is because, when you get right down to it, that's basically what it is. According to Taste of Home, fruit juice is approximately 85% water. It also contains minerals that can help keep electrolytes balanced. The sugar in juice can hinder hydration, however, so it's important to stick to 100% juice with no added sugar. Also, consider thinning it out with water if you plan to drink a lot.

Staying properly hydrated is critical for good health. The water in our bodies helps carry nutrients and oxygen to cells, protects our organs, regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, and helps flush waste products from the body, among many other important tasks. Women should aim to get about 11.5 cups of water daily, while men should shoot for 15.5 (via Mayo Clinic).

Orange juice is an easy way to up your fruit intake

When it comes to fruit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends women aged 19 to 30 eat 2 cups daily, while women 31 and older need only 1.5 cups (via LSU Age Center). Adult men of all ages should aim for 2 cups of fruit a day. While that may not sound like a lot, most Americans don't meet this recommendation.

According to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and reported on in Time in 2017, only 12.2% of American adults eat the daily recommended amount of fruit. That said, the USDA considers a cup (8 ounces) of 100% fruit juice a serving, so it's easy to see how an OJ enthusiast could quickly meet (and exceed) the daily fruit recommendation.

The USDA lists fruit as an essential food group because of the many micronutrients they provide. The good news is that orange juice contains higher amounts of many of these vitamins and minerals when compared to a whole orange. For example, a cup of orange juice contains 137% of your daily vitamin C needs, compared to 116% in an orange. An orange has 8% of the thiamine you need daily, while OJ has 18%. Orange juice also boasts approximately double the magnesium and potassium as its spherical counterpart (via Healthline).

You'll miss out on fiber when you drink your oranges instead of eating them

While drinking oranges may be more convenient than eating them, and although orange juice counts as a serving of fruit, it lacks one of the key nutrients that makes whole fruit such a healthy option: fiber. According to Healthline, an orange has 3 grams of fiber, while a cup of orange juice has only 0.5 grams. As registered dietitian Trista Best told Health Digest, "Having to discard the bulk of the solid, fibrous portions of fruit and vegetables for juicing means you are throwing out fiber. Fiber is primarily found in these portions that are not being consumed when you opt for juice."

The Mayo Clinic recommends adult women aim to get 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day, depending on age, while men should shoot for 30 to 38 grams. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to become a thick gel, while insoluble fiber remains intact as it travels through your gastrointestinal tract. Both types of fiber provide important benefits, including helping to regulate bowel movements, improving digestive health, lowering cholesterol, and preventing blood sugar spikes.

Just because orange juice lacks fiber compared to orange juice, that doesn't mean you have to give it up — just make sure you get plenty of fiber elsewhere in your diet by eating whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, and grains.

Drinking orange juice may lead to weight gain

If you're keeping an eye on your calorie intake, drinking orange juice every day isn't the best idea. Orange juice is much more calorically dense than a whole orange. An 8-ounce serving of OJ has 110 calories, while a whole orange has only 62 (via Healthline). And the lack of fiber in OJ may leave you ravenous again in only a couple hours, especially if you're pairing it with a high-sugar, low-fiber breakfast.

According to the Cooper Institute, how satiated (full) you feel after eating or drinking something depends on the macronutrient content of that meal. While items that take up a lot of space in your stomach may trigger signals to stop eating, protein and fiber have the biggest role to play in controlling when you'll be hungry again.

Being able to quickly gulp down juice rather than having to chew an orange may also prevent you from realizing you're full, leading to accidental overeating. As the Harvard Health Blog explained, chewing thoroughly slows down eating speed and allows your brain time to receive hormonal signals from your digestive system that food has been consumed and it's now time to stop eating and digest. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that over a four-year period, each daily 8-ounce serving of fruit juice participants drank correlated to approximately a half-pound of weight gain.

You'll get more sugar than you may have expected when you drink orange juice

In many ways, orange juice is a healthier option than other sweet beverages like soda. But you might be surprised to learn just how much sugar orange juice contains. According to the USDA, a cup of orange juice contains approximately 20 grams of sugar, while a whole orange contains only 12. NPR noted that Tropicana 100% orange juice has about 28 grams of sugar per liter, which is actually more than Lemon-Lime Gatorade.

And just because the sugar in orange juice is "natural," that doesn't mean it's good for you. Because it's made from fruit, orange juice is relatively high in fructose. As a 2019 paper published in Nutrients explained, orange juice's sugar content is about 52 to 54% fructose. That's very similar to high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is 55% fructose.

Unlike glucose, which can be used by every cell in your body, fructose can only be processed by the liver. Consuming too much fructose — whether it comes from HFCS-sweetened sodas or fruit juice — can overload the liver and, over time, damage it. This in turn can cause other issues, such as fatty liver, high cholesterol, gout, and problems with the hormones insulin and leptin, which controls feelings of fullness (via Healthline).

Drinking orange juice could increase your risk for type 2 diabetes

Even though it's "natural," the sugar in orange juice — particularly fructose — can, directly and indirectly, increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. According to Healthline, fructose is a simple sugar found in fruits. When combined with glucose, it makes up half of regular table sugar (also known as sucrose). As the name suggests, fructose is also the main ingredient in high-fructose corn syrup. Fructose can damage the liver, which can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which the body doesn't respond normally to insulin. Over time, this can lead to type 2 diabetes. Large amounts of fructose can also lead to weight gain and more belly fat, both of which are risk factors for diabetes.

Going wild on OJ could mean you're getting way more fructose than your body can handle. According to a 2018 paper published in Preprints, the key to avoiding diabetes and the other negative health effects of too much fructose is simply moderation. The author noted, "100% fruit juice, as part of a healthy diet, is a healthy choice provided that you do not consume more juice than present in max. 1-3 fruits at a time." For orange juice, this equals 100 to 150 milliliters (3.3 to 5 ounces).

The vitamin C in orange juice is important for your immune system, but OJ isn't a magic bullet

When you hear the words "immune booster," vitamin C–packed orange juice is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Vitamin C is indeed critical for the immune system in multiple ways.

According to a 2017 article published in Nutrients, vitamin C helps give skin its structure, creating a first-line defense against invading germs. It also accumulates in phagocytes (a group of white blood cells designed to destroy germs by "eating" them) and makes them more active. It's needed for apoptosis, the destruction and recycling of old or damaged cells. Vitamin C helps immune cells develop into specialized killers that target particular germs the body has encountered before.

However, if you think you can evade illness simply by supercharging your immune system with vitamin C, think again. As Dr. Bruce Bistrian, chief of clinical nutrition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, explained to Harvard Health Letter, "The data show that vitamin C is only marginally beneficial when it comes to the common cold." Research suggests that large doses of vitamin C may help extremely active people avoid getting sick, but it didn't help the general population dodge a cold. In other words, think of your daily glass of orange juice as a prerequisite for good health rather than "extra credit" for your immune system.

A daily glass of orange juice gives your skin the nutrients it needs

A glass of vitamin C–rich orange juice in the morning could help your skin all day long. A 2017 paper published in the journal Nutrients explored the link between vitamin C and skin health. The authors noted that vitamin C concentration is particularly high in the skin. The epidermis (the topmost layer of skin) contains 6 to 64 milligrams per 100 grams of wet weight, while the dermis (the thicker layer of skin below the epidermis) contains 3 to 13 milligrams. For comparison, skeletal muscles contain 3 to 4 milligrams, while the heart contains 5 to 15 milligrams.

Vitamin C is required for the creation of collagen, the protein that gives skin its structure. It's also necessary for maintaining the proper balance between collagen and elastin (a protein that gives skin its stretch) in the dermis. As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C also protects against cellular skin damage caused by UV radiation. Signs of aging, like wrinkles, can be prevented or postponed with vitamin C, per the paper.

Plus, a 2013 paper published in the British Journal of Community Nursing noted that vitamin C plays an important role in all phases of wound healing. In particular, adequate vitamin C is needed during the final stage of the healing process to ensure that scar tissue doesn't form.

On the other hand, the sugar in OJ could be aging your skin

Unfortunately, orange juice can be a double-edged sword when it comes to your complexion due to its high sugar content (via Healthline). All that sugar can age your skin in a variety of ways. According to Dr. Andre Nish at UnityPoint Health, consuming a lot of sugar can lead to wrinkles, sagging skin (particularly in the neck and chin area), formation of dark spots, and slower healing of cuts and scrapes (robbing your skin of its smooth, unblemished appearance).

Sugar can also affect the arrangement of collagen fibers in the skin through a process called cross-linking, leading to a loss of elasticity. To explain the process, Dr. Nish used a banana as an example. "If you put a banana out on the counter and unpeel it ... it gets brown. What's happening is the sugars in that banana are reacting with proteins, causing cross-linking and the brown color (browning reaction). The same reaction is happening in our bodies. We're browning from the inside out."

Fight free radical damage with a daily glass of orange juice

You've probably heard that orange juice is a great source of antioxidants, but have you ever wondered what exactly antioxidants are and why they're important? ? Antioxidants are chemicals that protect the body against damage from free radicals.

Free radicals are highly unstable atoms of oxygen that try to "steal" electrons from other molecules in the body. This destabilizes the molecules and creates a chain reaction that leads to damage throughout the body, a process known as oxidative damage or oxidative stress. Substances that produce free radicals can be found in food and in our environment, and free radicals are also created as the byproduct of natural chemical processes in the body. Antioxidants are able to give free radicals the electrons they want without becoming destabilized themselves (via Livescience).

According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, orange juice contains a number of compounds that act as powerful antioxidants. These include vitamin C, flavonoids (specifically hesperetin and naringenin), and carotenoids (including xanthophylls, cryptoxanthins, carotenes). The study authors noted that after a three-week period of daily orange juice consumption, participants had significantly higher circulating levels of these antioxidants.

Drinking orange juice could improve your cholesterol

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high cholesterol is prevalent in the United States. Approximately 93 million Americans have cholesterol over 200 mg/dL, and 29 million of those individuals have a total cholesterol level of over 240 mg/dL. About 18% of Americans have levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol that are too low (less than 40 mg/dL). Having high total cholesterol increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, both leading causes of death in the United States.

If you have high total cholesterol or low HDL cholesterol, drinking more orange juice could improve your numbers. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that drinking 750 milliliters (3 cups) of orange juice daily for four weeks improved HDL cholesterol by 21% while also improving the ratio between LDL ("bad") cholesterol and HDL cholesterol by 16%. It's important to note, however, that these changes weren't seen when participants drank only a cup or two cups of juice a day, so you'd have to consume a fair amount of juice to see benefits.

Additionally, a more recent study published in Lipids in Health and Disease concluded that long-term orange juice drinkers had an 11% lower total cholesterol level, 18% lower LDL cholesterol level, and a 12% better LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio compared to non-OJ drinkers. Even among participants with moderately high cholesterol, the orange juice drinkers' numbers were significantly better than the non-drinkers'.

If you're anemic, drinking orange juice could help

Iron deficiency anemia is an extremely common condition resulting from a lack of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. This leads to symptoms such as extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and dizziness. There are several reasons you can become low on iron, but one of the most common is difficulty absorbing iron from the food you eat (via Mayo Clinic). That's where orange juice can help.

There are two types of iron: heme (from animals) and non-heme (from plants, particularly dark leafy greens and legumes). While heme iron is easily absorbed by the body, non-heme iron is much less bioavailable (via The Nutrition Source). Vitamin C improves the absorption of iron from plant-based sources. But even if a lot of your iron comes from animal sources, the vitamin C in orange juice is important.

According to a 2014 paper published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, vitamin C plays several roles when it comes to both heme and non-heme iron. These include influencing cells' uptake of iron from the blood and regulating how much iron is stored in the body. So whether your breakfast is a hearty carne asada breakfast burrito or a spinach-packed omelet, washing it down with a glass of orange juice will help your body get the iron it needs.

Drinking orange juice could give your sex life a boost

You may want to start drinking your OJ in the bedroom rather than at the kitchen table. Research suggests that the vitamin C in orange juice can improve sexual function. 

In a 2002 study published in Biological Psychiatry, researchers gave 81 healthy young adult participants either high-dose ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or a placebo for 14 days. Individuals who received ascorbic acid reported an increased frequency of sexual intercourse compared to those given the placebo. The effect was most noticeable in women and individuals who didn't live with their sexual partners. Those taking the vitamin C also showed improved scores on the Beck Depression Inventory, a metric for gauging symptoms of depression. (Who wouldn't be in a better mood after leveling up their sex life?) Healthline also noted that since vitamin C can improve blood flow, it may improve erectile function in men.

Based on the results of a 2017 survey of 1,000 relationships, many Americans could use a little help in the boudoir. The survey found that 34% of participants were unsatisfied with their sex lives. One in six reported that their current partner rarely or never satisfies them sexually. And women were more than twice as likely as men to characterize their sex life as boring. The main complaints? A lack of foreplay, lack of communication, and sex that didn't last long enough (via SWNS Digital).

You may be exposing your body to dangerous heavy metals if you drink orange juice daily

Nothing tastes as clean and refreshing as a tall glass of orange juice, but a 2019 study conducted by Consumer Reports found that many fruit juices may be contaminated with heavy metals. Consumer Reports tested 45 commercially available fruit juices, and although none of these were straight orange juice, several were multi-fruit blends containing orange juice. The researchers evaluated the levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic. Although mercury wasn't an issue, the other three heavy metals showed up at levels that could be potentially harmful. In some cases, drinking just 4 ounces a day of certain brands of juice could be enough to raise concentrations of these harmful substances in your body.

Where are these heavy metals coming from? According to Consumer Reports, "In some cases, those compounds enter the air, water, and soil through melting glaciers, volcanic activities, or other natural events — and sometimes through pollution, mining, pesticides, or other human activities."

These findings are particularly troubling when it comes to children's health, as children are more susceptible to the negative health effects of heavy metals. If you're a parent and your mini-me shares your love of orange juice, choose brands carefully and limit how much your child drinks each day.