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AICR HealthTalk

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Is lemonade a healthy fruit juice?

A: Consider lemonade more like a sugar-sweetened drink. Commercial “real old-fashioned” lemonade is typically only about 15 percent lemon juice, similar to fruit drinks that contain a little juice and a lot of sugar water. Most recipes for homemade lemonade call for three to four tablespoons of sugar (picture nine to twelve restaurant sugar packets!) in each 12-ounce serving of lemonade – as many calories as an equal amount of sugar-sweetened soda. Whether homemade the old-fashioned way from lemon juice and sugar, mixed from frozen concentrate or a powdered mix, or a bottled organic drink, regular lemonade usually contains about 150 to 200 calories in each 12-ounce portion.

For lower calories, one option is to dilute frozen concentrate or mix with more water than listed on package instructions. Most powdered mixes are lemonade flavor, without any lemon juice at all, though some do reduce added sugar, cutting calories by about a third. Mixes and “light” ready-to-drink lemonade sweetened with zero-calorie sweeteners contain ten or fewer calories, comparable to diet soft drinks. Unlike soda, some lemonades contain from 10 to 100 percent of Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C.  Sometimes this vitamin C is from lemon juice; in other cases, especially when high amounts of vitamin C are present, it’s because of added vitamin C and is not a sign of actual fruit juice content.

If you’re looking for a naturally low-calorie alternative to regular soda, consider iced tea (unsweetened or very lightly sweetened, regular or decaf) or ice water with a dash of added juice. Or try making fruit-infused water! Although lemonade may have a “health halo” and seem like a more nutritious choice than soda or fruit juice drinks, big bottles or glass-after-glass of any of these sugar-loaded drinks on a hot day can make calorie and sugar consumption quickly soar.

Read AICR's recommendation on sugary drinks.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).

Published on 08/03/2015

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