Dr. Friedman’s Health Blog

The Real Squeeze on Fruit Juice

By: Dr. David Friedman

Cruise the aisles of the supermarket and you’ll find countless varieties of juices to choose from. Gone are the days of freshly squeezed morning orange juice.  Instead, we reach for more convenient and ready to serve options. But – your seemingly wholesome morning OJ may not be as healthy as you think! Most juice products on the market today are water based and a breeding ground for bacteria. For this reason, the fruit and vegetable juices sold on the market require some sort of antibacterial preservative; the most common one is called sodium benzoate.

Food for thought: If sodium benzoate is used to kill living bacteria, yeast and fungi, wouldn’t it destroy the living enzymes of fruits and vegetables too? During my research, I discovered  this preservative found in juice products is also an ingredient used to make fireworks and silver polish! Does your OJ sound as wholesome now?

What I discovered: Professor Peter W. Piper of the University of Sheffield has researched sodium benzoate for 15 years. Dr. Piper, professor of molecular biology and biotechnology, found that sodium benzoate damages an important area of DNA in the “power station” of cells known as the mitochondria. The mitochondria consume oxygen to generate ATP, the body’s energy currency. If this is damaged, the cell malfunctions, leading to cellular death![1] This not only accelerates a person’s aging process but can lead to an array of  diseases tied to DNA damage including: Diabetes,  Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Cancer.

If sodium benzoate is so dangerous, why is it still used as a preservative in some of our most common beverages? For that answer, we need to go back in history…

In 1882, a doctor named Harvey W. Wiley, Chief Chemist for the United States Department of Agriculture, was chosen to assist Congress in analyzing the safety of chemical food preservatives. Dr. Wiley analyzed sodium benzoate and wrote a letter to President Coolidge which stated, “The time has fully come for this monstrosity [sodium benzoate] to disappear.” His pleas were  ignored because the Food and Drug Act was being influenced by powerful politicians that didn’t want to upset big food enterprises that were using this preservative.  In 1929, Dr. Wiley went public with his objections in his book,  The History of Crime Against the Food Law.  He said sodium benzoate is a harmful food additive that should be outlawed as a preservative.[2] Fast forward 84 years….Sodium benzoate still remains today the most common preservative in fruit and vegetable juices. Current research shows repeated or prolonged exposure to this substance can produce organ damage. [3]

If sodium benzoate alone isn’t bad enough news, when it’s combined with vitamin C, these two ingredients form benzene, a toxic poison found in GASOLINE! Benzene is also an industrial chemical that’s found in tobacco smoke, car exhaust and vapors from household products such as paint, detergents and furniture wax. According to the CDC, long-term exposure to benzene can cause Leukemia and other cancers of the blood. What do most fruit juices contain? Yes, you guessed it – sodium benzoate and vitamin C (also called ascorbic acid)! The FDA has known about benzene showing up in fruit juices and sodas since 1990. The beverage industry told the government they  would handle the problem, and the FDA left it in their hands. Then a decade later, the FDA found even higher levels of benzene in these beverages – two to four times more than what’s considered safe!  An internal FDA memo from  the National Soft Drinks Association, clarified industry priorities by  expressing “concern about the presence of benzene traces in their products and the potential for adverse publicity associated with this problem.”[4]  According to the Organic Consumers Association, tests conducted on 230 different beverages showed high levels of benzene, as much as 800% above the safe limit. [5] Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t regulate exactly how much sodium benzoate is being poured into juice products, nor how much or how often it is combined with ascorbic acid.

The Solution: Grab fresh fruit or buy a juicer and make your own. Another healthier alternative is to buy frozen juice concentrates. If you prefer the convenience of ready to serve options, go with natural alternatives to sodium benzoate such as lemon juice, citric acid or natamax.


[1] Chemical in Soft Drinks Can Wreck Your Child’s DNA.  Jenny Hope   May 28, 2007  Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd.
[2] The History of a Crime Against the Food Law. Harvey W. Wiley, M.D. lee Foundation for Nutritional Research.  Copyright, 1929
[3] Material Safety Data Sheet Sodium benzoate MSDS Sciencelab.com, Inc. 11/01/2010
[4] Cancer in a Can  Terry J. Allen March 28, 2006.  In These Times
[5] Soft Drinks Found to Contain High Levels of Cancer-Causing Benzene.  March 2, 2006  Rajeev Syal. The Times / UK

About the Author

Dr. David Friedman is the author of the award-winning, #1 national best-selling book Food Sanity, How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction. He's a  Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Clinical Nutritionist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner, and Board Certified in Integrative Medicine.  Dr. Friedman is a syndicated television health expert and host of To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value, and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.

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