A glass of orange juice at breakfast is refreshing on hot summer days. But between the high acidity and fears that the juice contains too much sugar, many women are left wondering if their breakfast staple is better left behind.
Pasteurized orange juices and thoroughly washed oranges can still be a safe part of any pregnancy diet, and even provide a few key nutrients. Being choosy when shopping can help you maximize nutrition benefits while ensuring you and baby stay safe from potential issues, such as foodborne illness.
Oranges and orange juices are safe, with some considerations, but is drinking juice during pregnancy healthy? And if so, are there any special benefits during pregnancy?
Pregnancy Safety of Pasteurized vs Unpasteurized Orange Juice
Orange juice is the quintessential star in American breakfast spreads. 100% orange juice is even served in school meals across America. Not all orange juices are created equal, however, especially when it comes to pregnancy.
The first consideration for any juice (or any other food/drink, for that matter) is pasteurization. During pregnancy, women are generally advised to avoid any and all unpasteurized food items. This includes things such as soft cheeses, raw milk, and of course, unpasteurized juice.
Drinking unpasteurized orange juice leaves you at risk for serious bouts of foodborne illness. Pasteurization kills off these harmful bacteria, making pasteurized products the safer choice during pregnancy (source: FDA, Michigan State).
Pasteurization plays a big role in the safety of commercially available versus fresh juices as well. Juices labeled as farm fresh, cold-pressed, or fresh squeezed may not be pasteurized.
While these drinks might seem like a ‘healthier’ choice, fresh juice is not worth the risks. Check into these products thoroughly before you buy or drink them, as some store-bought bottles labeled as “fresh juice” may actually be pasteurized for safety.
Is Orange Juice Good for Pregnancy? What Are the Benefits?
Vitamin C is actually one of the nutrients pregnant women need more of than non-pregnant women, and the vitamin aids in maintaining a healthy immune system, which is lowered throughout pregnancy.
Beyond Vitamin C, many commercially available orange juices are fortified. Fortification means vitamins and minerals that aren’t naturally found in oranges are added into the juice.
Fact: Juices are often fortified because health officials have found certain nutrients to be low in the diets of most people, and adding these nutrients to commonly consumed foods (like juice) is an easy way to prevent widespread deficiencies.
Calcium is one of the nutrients commonly added to orange juice, and even has an important pregnancy-related benefit. During pregnancy, extra calcium is needed by the mother’s body in order to support forming the new baby’s bones.
If the mother doesn’t get adequate calcium in her diet, her body will pull this calcium from her own bones, potentially leading to brittle bones later in the mother’s life (source: The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology).
When it comes to sugar, many women are put off from orange juice when they read the label. While it is true that some juices contain added sugar, look for products that are made from 100% juice- meaning no added sweeteners. Even 100% orange juice will still have the sugar found naturally in oranges.
Because orange juice doesn’t offer much in the way of protein or fats, it is digested quickly. Make sure to pair your juice with a meal or hearty snack to help slow down its digestion and keep your blood sugar levels from spiking, only to leave you crashing later on in the day.
What Do Orange Juice Cravings Mean During Pregnancy?
If you are craving a tall glass of ice-cold orange juice while pregnant, you are not alone! Citrus, and therefore oranges and orange juice, are incredibly common cravings during pregnancy.
It is also a common myth that craving citrus or oranges means you are having a baby girl. Unfortunately, there is no proof that cravings tell us much of anything about the baby or pregnancy.
Overall, scientists are not quite sure what causes cravings during pregnancy, though orange juice has a very strong flavor, which may contribute. What we do know is that cravings are a totally normal and expected part of pregnancy, and not a sign of anything amiss.
If you would like to learn more, check out our article I’m Pregnant: Why am I Craving Citrus Fruit?
Does Orange Juice Contain Alcohol? Is It Pregnancy-Safe?
Orange juice is made from oranges, and like all fruits, they will ferment if left long enough. As odd as it may sound, orange juice does have trace amounts of alcohol in it. While you don’t typically buy orange juice from the liquor store, learning this fact is enough to cause expecting mothers some worry during pregnancy.
Luckily, even slightly fermented orange juice contains only very minuscule amounts of alcohol. A German study found that, of the juice brands they tested, a full liter of orange juice had an average of 0.4 grams of alcohol. For comparison, 12-ounces of a typical 5% beer has 14 grams of alcohol (source: Journal of Analytical Toxicology).
So while trace amounts of alcohol may be surprising to say the least, orange juice is also still pregnancy-safe! For more on this, check out our guide to safe foods that contain alcohol when you’re pregnant.
Eating Oranges When Pregnant: Are They a Good Fruit Choice?
If drinking a glass of orange juice is not really your style, a sudden craving for orange might prompt a trip to the produce section.
The main difference between whole oranges and juice is the fiber content. During the process of juicing, natural fiber is lost. A cup of orange juice contains less than a single gram of fiber, whereas an orange contains 4.3 grams (source: Tufts University).
This fiber helps keep the body’s digestive system regular, which in turn can keep pregnancy-related constipation at bay.
Like orange juices, whole oranges of any variety can be safe to enjoy during pregnancy. Even though you likely won’t eat the orange peel, it is still important to wash the fruit before eating. Thorough washing of the peel prevents any bacteria on the outside of the fruit from spreading to the edible orange flesh once cut open.
To learn how to wash produce for safety while pregnant, check out our complete guide.
Oranges and Orange Juice Pregnancy Heartburn / Nausea
If there is one type of home remedy in no short supply, it is homemade cures for morning sickness and heartburn. Orange juice is another contender when it comes to stopping these two.
There are many anecdotal reports that drinking orange juice or other acidic drinks helps to calm nausea. Orange juice is considered a fluid and does contain some electrolytes, which can help you feel better after bouts of morning sickness.
Interestingly, orange scent was found to be a favorite amongst one small group of pregnant women (source: PubMed).
If you are experiencing heartburn, especially if your heartburn is severe, high-acidity foods like oranges might make the problem worse rather than better.
For women with heartburn (also known as acid reflux) who are craving orange, limit yourself to smaller amounts and avoid laying down shortly after eating to give yourself the best chance at avoiding reflux.
Can I Drink Orange Tea When Pregnant?
There are several popular brands that offer orange-infused teas, including Tazo Wild Sweet Orange Tea and Bigelow brand. These teas often belong to the herbal tea family, making them naturally caffeine-free.
Herbal teas can include additional herbs and spices not advertised on the front of the box, making it important to thoroughly read the label to ensure the tea you’re drinking doesn’t contain any unsafe ingredients.
Orange pekoe tea, on the other hand, actually contains no orange at all! Orange pekoe actually represents a grade of whole loose leaf black tea. Because orange pekoe is black tea, it will be caffeinated and so any cups drank should be accounted for in your daily caffeine limit (source: Artful Tea).
Overall, oranges and orange juice can continue to be a safe, sweet-tasting, and nutritious part of your pregnancy diet.