As part of our March Nutrition Month focus on ‘rethinking your drink’, let’s look at juice.

Health professional all agree that getting plenty of fruits and vegetables is key to lowering your risk for heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer.  So what is the best way to take in fruits and vegetables?    While both whole produce and juices count towards the achieving the recommended nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables, there are important differences in how your body processes the whole and juice versions.   

What IS juice?

Juice is the liquid version of fruits or vegetables, produced through a squeezing or pulverizing process.  But beware of products with labels like “fruit drinks” or “juice drinks” that may contain little to no actual fruit or vegetable juice.    Only buy products that say “100% juice” and that don’t have sugar as an ingredient.

Let’s check some of the Pros and Cons of juices:

 Pros: In a few cases, the juiced form makes important nutrients more accessible than the whole fruit:

·         The nutrient lycopene, which is a protective factor against prostate cancer, in tomato juice is actually better absorbed from tomato juice than fresh tomatoes. 

·         Commercially squeezed orange juice contains more antioxidants and other   added beneficial nutrients such as calcium that is not found in an orange.

 Cons:  In general, the cons of juices outweigh the pros.

·          Because they’re more concentrated, juices contain increased calorie and sugar content while losing the fiber found in whole fruits.  Each of these has the effect of raising levels of blood sugar which can contribute to development or complications of diabetes.   The difference in calories and sugar between whole fruit and fruit juice is astounding.  For example, a 16-ounce bottle of orange juice contains about 240 calories and 14 teaspoons of sugar!  A medium size orange, on the other hand, contains just 60 calories and 4 teaspoons of sugar.   Similarly, a 16-ounce bottle of apple juice contains about 220 calories and 13 teaspoons of sugar, while a medium size apple has just 55 calories and 4 teaspoons of sugar. 

·         In addition to having fewer calories, the fiber in whole fruit of the orange or apple fills you up and also helps to keep your blood sugar levels from spiking and then crashing.  This is because the fiber slows down your body’s absorption of the sugar in the fruit.   Check out the sugar content of juice compared with fruit.

ü  To make sure you’re getting the best deal for your buck, read the label and look for 100% juice, BUT don’t stop there.

Carefully read the label and select nutrient –dense juices, those with the highest percentage of nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, folate and that are fortified with calcium.  It’s also important to read the ingredient label to know exactly which juices are in the product you’re buying.  The label lists ingredients in order of abundance, from most to least.  A bottle of “100% Apple and Pomegranate Juice” turns out to have apple juice listed first, so you’re probably getting very little pomegranate juice, with its good nutrients.

ü  Beware of “juice drinks”, “fruit drinks” or “juice cocktails”.

These beverages often contain little or even no fruit juice.  You’ll be getting the same or even more calories and sugar as in 100% fruit juice without any of its vitamins, minerals, or antioxidants.  “Juice drinks” are often made to look like fruit juice.  The pictures of fruit and the words “all natural” are confusing to customers.  But if you read the label carefully, you can see how much juice the drink actually contains – usually 0-10% juice, with no significant amounts of any vitamins.  It is really more like sugar water.  Calories without nutrients are called “empty calories”.  For about 240 calories and 13 teaspoons of sugar per 16 ounce bottle, that is a lot of calories being wasted (more like waisted…).  For more information on reading the label, go to Healthy Messages.

ü  Watch your juice portions.

Recommended juice portions are   4 to 6 ounces per day, with the goal to meet the balance of fruits and vegetable needs through fresh, frozen or canned produce.   It’s easy to go over this recommended intake from the common size of bottles found for individual sale. They are usually 12 to 16 ounces, which is two or more times the recommended daily intake.  If you do make these purchases, share your drink or save some for the next day.

For more tips on healthy juice, click here.

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