Is juice a good source of energy? Or is it actually making you tired?
Fruit is healthy, right?
From a big picture point of view, yes, fruit is generally healthy. However, if you’ve noticed you experience fatigue after drinking juice you’re not alone.
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In fact, if you take a closer look, you may find out that nature’s healthy treat could secretly be making you tired.
Whether fruit is healthy or contributes to fatigue strongly depends on your individual circumstances. Have you heard the adage: “One man’s food is another man’s poison.”? This holds true for all food. Especially fruit.
Why your morning orange juice makes you tired
Fruit contains natural sugars and fibers. These are classified as carbohydrates and your body uses them for energy. While both sugars and fibers are carbohydrates, they behave very differently within your body.
Fiber cannot be digested by your body. This is because you lack the digestive enzymes to break it down.
There are two different types of dietary fiber:
- Soluble fiber
- Dissolves in water
- Insoluble fiber
- Does not dissolve in water
Fruit contains insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber passes through your digest tract unchanged, adds bulk to your stool and helps to alleviate constipation.
However, when you blend or juice a fruit, you break up the fiber. And with lower a fiber content, fruit juices and smoothies have a more dramatic – and negative!- effect on your blood sugar.
The link between carbohydrates and fatigue
As I mentioned, fruit contains two carbohydrates: fiber and sugar.
But the sugars found in fruit are better than the sugars found in refined food products, right?
Not necessarily. The sugar in fruit is better for you only when it is accompanied by fiber.
When fiber and sugar are eaten together, the fiber works to keep your blood sugar balanced. (2) But if you juice your fruit or blend it up in a smoothie, you’re destroying the fiber. And without the fiber, the fruit’s sugar has the same effect on your blood sugar as soda.
To figure out how much sugar is in a food, you look at the net carbohydrates. Net carbs is the total amount of carbs less the fiber.
Take a look at the nutritional information for 1 medium orange:
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Notice the carbohydrate total for the orange is 11 grams. This includes 9g of sugar and 2.3 grams of fiber. Therefore, the net carbohydrates for the orange is 8.7 grams (11g – 2.3g = 8.7g).
The orange’s fiber keeps your blood sugar from spiking. When you remove the fiber (like in orange juice), you’re making a sugary drink that’s not too far off from a can of cola.
Compare this with one glass of raw, freshly squeezed orange juice. (source) One cup of orange juice has 26 grams of sugar in it and only 0.5 grams of fiber. Therefore, the net carbohydrates in a glass of orange juice are 25.5 grams (26g – 0.5g = 25.5g).
That’s more than six teaspoons of sugar!
Juice vs Pop
To better put this in perspective, a can of your favourite pop will have around 30 grams of sugar in it (with no fiber). A can of pop has almost the same amount of sugar as a glass of “healthy” orange juice.
I’ve written a great deal about how eating a lot of carbohydrates can cause fatigue. Basically, different carbohydrates can affect everyone differently. If you eat a carb your body doesn’t tolerate, your blood sugar levels will rapidly rise and your body will release insulin to lower the levels. If your body releases too much insulin your blood sugar will drop. This is a tremendous stress to your body and it will then release cortisol. You probably know cortisol as the stress hormone. To combat stress, cortisol pulls sugar out of your cells and puts it back into your blood. This raises your blood sugar. And (hopefully) alleviates those uncomfortable low blood sugar symptoms.
Your blood sugar goes down but cortisol brings it back up. What’s the big deal?
If this was a one-time deal, it wouldn’t be an issue. That’s a small stress that your body can handle. The real problem occurs when this happens daily. Maybe even three (or more) times a day. Each time you eat a carbohydrate that your body doesn’t tolerate, it has to release cortisol to help re-balance your blood sugar.
By altering your blood sugar levels, that ‘healthy’ morning smoothie or glass of juice could quietly be causing your fatigue. That’s why some people complain orange juice makes them tired!
If you’re trying to overcome fatigue, I recommend you hold off on juicing, juice cleanses, and daily smoothie consumption. The high sugar content found in fruit juice and smoothies will likely only compound your energy issues. Opt for eating whole fruits – but only in moderation.
This is because even whole fruit could be causing your fatigue!
Glucose, fructose, and fatigue
I’ve already covered how glucose affects your energy levels. But there’s another form of sugar that may be even worse. This form of sugar is known as fructose. You’ve probably seen it on ingredient lists as “high fructose corn syrup” or “glucose-fructose“.
High fructose corn syrup is a cheap way to sweeten food. It’s often used to make bland, unappetizing foods palatable. Cover anything in enough sugar and it’s bound to taste good.
However, fructose behaves very differently than glucose. Glucose increases your blood sugar, but fructose does not. (3) However, before you jump on the fructose bandwagon, know that it could very well be an insidious cause of your fatigue.
How fructose causes fatigue
Unless you’re on a ketogenic diet, your body uses glucose for energy. No glucose, no energy. Your body cannot run on fructose for energy and it can’t convert fructose into glucose (energy).
When you consume fructose, it is first absorbed into circulation in your small intestine. From there, it heads straight to your liver. While glucose can be metabolized anywhere, fructose can only be metabolized within the liver. (4)
What does your liver do with fructose?
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Since it cannot use fructose as energy, the only option is to put it into storage. And the storage of fructose is done via body fat. Fatty liver disease can develop when you consume too much fructose. With excess fructose, your liver is forced to store it as fat. This fat storage pattern is how fructose causes fatigue.
Fat, fatigue, and fructose
High-fructose corn syrup now represents nearly 50% of the sweeteners used in the United States. (5, 6) And you know now that fructose contributes to the addition of fat on your body. In fact, fructose has even been linked to the obesity epidemic in developed nations. (7)
When you have excess body fat, you’re at increased risk for developing diabetes. (8)
Your fat cells release hormones and inflammatory markers that cause insulin resistance. The more weight you gain, the stronger the effect these hormones and inflammatory markers have on your health.
As well, the cells in the pancreas that control blood glucose are impaired. The combination of these two health issues in obese people can lead to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
As I mentioned, insulin and cortisol work together to control blood sugar. When insulin levels are unbalanced, cortisol levels almost always become unbalanced. Your body typically needs more cortisol when it struggles to balance its blood sugar (like in diabetes). Over time, this high demand for cortisol results in hypocortisolism (also known as adrenal fatigue).
It’s a long process, but this is how fructose causes fatigue. Fatigue doesn’t occur immediately after consuming fructose. Instead, the fatigue developed by fructose occurs over a long period of time.
My recommendation: if you’re working to overcome fatigue, avoid anything that contains fructose. This includes:
- refined fructose (like high-fructose corn syrup or glucose-fructose)
- fruit that contains fructose.
Foods with fructose
Fructose is a naturally occurring sweetener in fruits. The following fruits are known to have high levels of fructose (eat in moderation):
The following vegetables contain high levels of fructose (eat in moderation):
- Sugar snap peas
The following refined foods contain high levels of fructose (avoid completely):
- Sweetened/ flavored yogurt
- Salad dressings
- Granola bars
- Breakfast cereals
- Sports drinks
To overcome fatigue, achieving a healthy weight and balanced blood sugar are absolutely essential. Fruit, juice cleanses, and smoothies can seem like quick wins to improve your energy. In reality, they often do more harm than good.
Be sure to steer clear of all refined foods high in fructose (and glucose for that matter). As a general rule of thumb, do your best to limit or avoid tropical fruit. These fruits often contain the highest glucose and fructose content. Instead, opt for berries.
Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and huckleberries contain lower amounts of glucose/fructose. They’ll help keep your blood sugar stable and won’t contribute to body fat.
If you’re going to take away one thing from this post, I want it to be that if you want to overcome fatigue, so-called “healthy” juice, juice cleanses, and/or smoothies may actually be making you tired. Do your best to avoid them.
Learn more than your doctor about which foods cause fatigue!