Juice: Love It or Leave It?

Some juices are brimming with nutrients, while others are empty calories. Choose wisely.

juice-love-ot-or-leave-itWho doesn’t enjoy a tall, cool glass of juice? The color is vibrant, the taste sweet, and it’s good for you, too. Not so fast, say some dietitians. Although the best kinds of juice deliver a bounty of vitamins, the worst are hardly better than liquid candy. Here’s how to help yourself spot the difference.

Best Choice: Vegetable Juice
Drinking your veggies is a convenient way to add powerful plant-based nutrients to your diet. The lycopene in tomato juice appears to lower the risk of prostate cancer. Beet juice may reduce blood pressure. Pulpy vegetable juice is also packed with fiber that can help control hunger. And all of these benefits come without a catch. Vegetable juice has far less sugar and fewer calories than the typical fruit juice, but it is high in sodium unless you choose the low salt version.
Be on alert for the terms juice cocktail, juice-flavoured beverage, or juice drink. Most of these products contain only small amounts of real juice. The main ingredients are usually water and some type of sugar, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Nutritionally, these drinks are similar to most soft drinks  rich in sugar and calories, but low in nutrients. Research suggests that sugary fruit drinks put kids at risk for obesity and related health problems. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommends water over sugary drinks.

The 100 per cent Fruit Juice Dilemma
What about pure fruit juice with no added sweeteners? Such an innocent-sounding drink has sparked endless debate. No one disputes the fact that real fruit juice is loaded with vitamins and disease-fighting antioxidants. The problem is juice can also be naturally high in sugar and calories. A cup of pure apple juice can have as much sugar as some candy bars. That’s why many experts recommend sticking to one juice serving per day.


Good Choice: Pomegranate Juice
If you’re only going to drink one glass of juice each day, you want to make it a good one. So let’s explore which juices offer the biggest nutritional payoff per sip. Pomegranate juice tops the list. It’s high in sugar and calories, but delivers an abundant dose of antioxidants. These substances appear to protect brain function and may ward off cancer. In one study, 8 ounces of pomegranate juice daily reduced the recurrence of prostate cancer.

Good Choice: Cranberry Juice
Cranberry juice is packed with vitamin C, which is vital to a healthy immune system. There is also evidence to support a folk remedy — drinking unsweetened cranberry juice may help reduce your risk of urinary tract infections.

Good Choice: Blueberry Juice
Substances in blueberries may help keep the brain healthy. In a small study, researchers looked at the effect of blueberry juice on memory in adults in their seventies who had age-related memory decline. Those who drank 2 1/2 cups of blueberry juice for 12 weeks had significant improvement on learning and memory tests compared to those who drank a non-juice beverage. So choose blueberry juice to boost brain health.

Good Choice: Acai Berry Juice
Researchers have only begun looking into the health benefits of acai juice, which is made from a berry found in South America. But early studies are promising. Acai pulp appears to have a higher concentration of antioxidants than cranberries, blackberries, strawberries, or blueberries.

Good Choice: Cherry Juice
Besides delivering a wealth of antioxidants, some berry juices appear to have anti-inflammatory properties. According to one study, drinking cherry juice before and after your work-out can reduce exercise-induced muscle pain.

Good Choice: Red Grape Juice
We’ve all heard that red wine, in moderation, can be good for the heart. The same is true of red grape juice. Red grape juice contains potent antioxiodants — flavanoids and resveratrol. The key is that wine and juice are made with the entire grape — seeds, skin, and all. When you eat fresh grapes, you miss out on nutrients hiding in the seeds.
Good Choice: Prune Juice
Another viable folk remedy, prune juice has long been recommended to relieve constipation. It works because it’s extremely high in fiber and contains a natural laxative called sorbitol. But the benefits of prune juice don’t stop there. The juice is also packed with antioxidants, iron, and potassium.

What About Orange Juice?
It’s a staple at breakfast, but does this popular juice carry its weight? The good news is orange juice is loaded with vitamin C, a star for its immune-boosting benefits. In addition, orange juice is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, nutrients that strengthen the bones. Unsweetened orange juice has fewer calories than some berry juices or grape juice. The trade-off is that it also has fewer antioxidants overall.

Kids and Juice
Most children love juice, but the American Academy of Pediatrics has set clear guidelines on how much is too much. For kids younger than 6, the AAP recommends no more than 4 to 6 ounces of pure fruit juice per day. For ages 7 to 18, the suggested amount is 8 to 12 ounces.

Water It Down
If you or your kids crave more than a single cup of juice per day, try watering it down. By mixing water or sparkling water and juice, you slash the calories in every serving. Instead of drinking one glass of pure juice, you can enjoy two or three cups of the water-juice mixture throughout the day.

Go for Whole Fruit
Dietitians say a great alternative to guzzling fruit juice is to eat the whole fruit. This provides fiber and additional nutrients from the flesh and pulp. Unlike juice, fresh berries or orange wedges also help control hunger.
Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD


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