If you’re a juice drinker, chances are you’re part of the three-quarters of American households that start the day with orange juice, the most popular juice in this country. However, in your sleepy haze, you might not realize that the sunny OJ in your hand may have traveled thousands of miles to get there, and contain a lot of sugar. So what should you really be drinking in the morning?
FIRST OPTION: ORANGE JUICE
Pros: A single eight-ounce glass of OJ has a mere 110 calories. And it provides you with an entire day’s worth of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that can protect your skin from sun damage and your brain from air pollution and environmental pollutants like lead.
Cons: Too much orange juice might do serious damage to your tooth enamel. A recent study by Yanfeng Ren, DDS, PhD, associate professor at the University or Rochester Eastman Institute for Oral Health, found that orange juice reduced tooth-enamel hardness by 84 percent after people drank it every day for five days. Other fruit juices could have similar effects. “We picked orange juice because it’s the most popular juice,” says Dr. Ren. “But most fruit juices have a pH below 4 (which is very acidic), to prevent bacterial growth.” He added that cranberry juice is slightly more acidic than OJ. Even worse are energy drinks and sodas, which often have pH levels of 2.6 (the lower the pH, the more acidic a substance is). Here’s more on why juices might not be very healthy for you to drink.
From an environmental perspective, orange juice isn’t very green, either. The largest producer of orange-juice oranges is Brazil, so the fruit has a long way to travel to get to your door. But it’s not the transporting of orange juice that has the greatest impact; it’s the growing of oranges with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and the energy required to process oranges from whole fruits into bricks of frozen concentrate or cartons of juice. According to one estimate from a juice producer in Florida (the country’s second-largest source of orange-juice oranges), producing orange juice emits the same amount of carbon dioxide every year as 1,700 cars.
SECOND OPTION: MILK
Pros: A glass of 2% milk has 20 percent of your daily protein needs, and a third of your recommended calcium intake. Plus, a recent study found that people who drink milk in the morning are less likely to overeat at lunch, due in part to the satisfying nature of protein, and the fact that calcium helps regulate hormones that control weight. (Here are 6 milk alternatives you can try, too.) Environmentally speaking, milk is a slightly more local product, since it would be difficult to bottle milk in South America without it going sour by the time it reaches the U.S. East Coast. But it can still travel up to 1,000 miles from a dairy farm to a grocery store. Read more on 7 clever ways to use up your leftover milk so it doesn’t go to waste.
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Cons: Unless you’re going with totally nonfat milk, it can contain saturated fat, which can raise your risk of cardiovascular disease and contribute to obesity-related illnesses like diabetes. When it comes to environmental issues, nonorganic milk comes from concentrated animal-feeding operations that pollute waterways with animal waste and overdose cattle with antibiotics and growth hormones (which also wind up in waterways). Pesticide residues showed up in the milk of up to 92 percent of chemically farmed cows in a 2005 test conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Finally, animal agriculture is the leading consumer of water in the U.S., according to Cornell University environmental scientists. As the global climate heats up, water is likely to become an increasingly rare resource.
WHICH IS BETTER?
Go with milk. It’s easy on your teeth because it has more calcium, says Dr. Ren, which actually rebuilds tooth enamel. But make it organic, which will not only keep pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones out of waterways, but will also provide you with beneficial antioxidants the way orange juice does. Organic milk contains 75 percent more of the antioxidant beta-carotene, 50 percent more vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant that aids the immune system and may fight some cancers and heart disease), and two to three times the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin to keep our eyes healthy, plus about 70 percent more omega-3 fatty acids.
Not ready to give up your morning glass of sunshine? You don’t have to give up on fruit juices entirely, says Dr. Ren; but gulp them down when you do drink them. “If contact time is long, as when you sip it slowly, juice will be in contact with your teeth for a longer time, and the juice is more likely to have an erosive effect.” That’s also why it’s better to eat an orange than to drink the juice. There’s less contact time with your teeth when you eat, and you get all the nutritional benefits with none of the corrosive effect.
Dr. Ren’s last little bit of advice: Rinse your mouth out with water after you drink fruit juice, but don’t brush. “If you brush right away, you’ll brush away the softened layer of enamel,” he says, adding that waiting at least 30 minutes before brushing allows saliva to help reharden teeth.