The number of juice and juice-like beverages are multiplying on shelves as fast as the little furry tribbles that took over the U.S.S. Enterprise. This proliferation of fruit- and vegetable-based products, and ones that make you think they contain fresh produce, is both good and bad as far as health and nutrition goes.
The big benefit of 100 percent fruit juice is that it’s a great way to get needed nutrients in a fast and convenient form. For example, U.S. researchers who looked at the diets of nearly 9,000 people found that those who drank seven ounces (nearly 1 cup) of 100 percent orange juice daily were more apt to meet daily nutrient requirements for vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, magnesium and potassium.
What’s more, these OJ drinkers were 21 percent less likely to be obese and 36 percent less prone to metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that increases a person’s likelihood of heart disease, diabetes and other health problems.
Veggie juice is just as positively potent. A study published last year showed that when 106 overweight or obese medical students at Tehran University drank an average of 11 ounces of 100 percent tomato juice daily, they had a reduced risk of diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
The key to these benefits is drinking 100 percent juice, not a juice “drink” that has water and sugars (usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)) added in place of part or all of the real juice.
Of course, too much of a good thing can be bad. For example, some people switch from sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages to 100 percent juice thinking they will cut down on their sugar and calorie intake. Not so. A 12-ounce can of cola contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. Apple juice also has 10, grape juice 15 and orange juice 8 teaspoons of sugar.
Juice also has more calories. A 12-ounce regular cola provides 145 calories, while apple juice, grape juice and orange juice have 165, 240 and 165 calories, respectively.
Sugar-sweetened non-carbonated juice “drinks” can be worse. Some of these might have slightly less calories and sugar, however the sugar added is in the form of HFCS. U.S. researchers in 2012 showed that during a 26-week trial, those who consume juice “drinks” sweetened with HFCS had higher body weight and levels of triglycerides.
The key here is to drink 100 percent juice and to do so in moderation, from one half to one cup (4 to 8 ounces) daily.
One of the best ways to manage moderation is to consume a combination of 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices plus the whole fresh produce itself. For example, it takes 3 medium-sized apples to make 1 cup of apple juice. If you’re looking for a snack, go for the apples because the fiber that is associated with the whole fruit will keep you filled up longer. If you’re eating a bagel for a breakfast on the run, a small carton of 100 percent apple or orange juice is a quick way to add a fruit serving to the meal. (But a small carton, not a big glass.)
Smoothies are a great option, too. The benefits of a smoothie over juicing fresh produce (unless your juicer preserves most of the pulp and skin) is that it contains all the goodness in the whole fruit or vegetable rather than only the juice.
Finally, there’s another way to enjoy 100 percent juice. That is, squeezed or mixed into water. Water is the best beverage for hydration, especially in the hot days of summer. A blend of half juice and half water or even a squeeze of fresh lemon, lime or orange in ice water is a good way to enjoy a low-calorie, low-sugar beverage that is truly all natural, healthful and tastes good, too.
Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and a regular contributor to The Triton. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.