Juice: healthy or harmful?

by Nick Rose, M.S.

This article was originally published in July 2017

juicy story

An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but what about a glass of apple juice?

For many people, consuming a small amount of juice can be a tasty way to refresh your taste buds while also getting essential vitamins and minerals. Juice makes up about a third of total fruit intake in the United States, providing reliable sources of vitamins A and C, folate and potassium.

New recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), however, suggest kids should drink no juice until they’re 1 year old. Drinking juice at a young age can encourage a preference for sweet tastes. While juice can be a healthier choice than soda, it can be easy to overconsume. We need to make sure we’re eating more whole fruits and vegetables than juiced ones.

The case for juice

Juice provides a mixture of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Fruit (and vegetable) juice can be a convenient, economical way to get high levels of nutrients.

All juices are excellent sources of potassium, which helps manage blood pressure and rehydrate the body after exercise. Most Americans fall short of potassium, and juice can be a convenient way to boost intake of this essential mineral. Some juices also provide essential minerals manganese, zinc and copper.

Orange juice is an excellent source of folate and thiamin, crucial for healthy cells. Tomato juice is very high in lycopene, which supports heart, bone and prostate health, while carrot juice is loaded with vitamin A-rich carotenes. Tart cherry juice is very high in anthocyanins, which help manage inflammation and may support relaxation. These nutrients also are available as supplements. Some shoppers prefer supplements to avoid the sugars in fruit juices, but our bodies are better able to absorb and utilize many of these nutrients from foods rather than from supplements.

The case against juice

While juice can offer essential nutrients and is a healthier choice than soda, it’s not as nutritious as whole fruit. Juice is much higher in sugars and lower in fiber, protein and antioxidants. Whole fruits also have higher levels of total antioxidants than fruit juices. Many of the antioxidants in fruits are lost when pulp is removed from juice.

There’s concern that juice encourages kids to develop a preference for sweet tastes that can be difficult to break, especially if they graduate from juice to soda. Many parents avoid offering any juices as a way of helping their children learn to appreciate a variety of flavors beyond sweet.

It’s very easy to consume a large amount of calories from juice but nearly impossible to overconsume calories from whole fruit. It’s easy to drink ¾cup juice in a few seconds, but it would take a lot longer to eat 2 cups of sliced apples. Both provide 100 calories; however, chewing serves as a natural barrier to consuming too many calories from fruit in one sitting.

Juice is not as nutritious as whole fruit because it’s higher in sugars and lower in fiber, protein and antioxidants.”

One hundred percent fruit juice also can contribute to tooth decay. Fruit juice intake is associated with a 20 percent increased chance of tooth decay in children — much less than the 83 percent chance of decay in soda drinkers but still a significant concern. You can minimize this impact of juice on your teeth by diluting juice with water, using a straw, or brushing teeth immediately after drinking it.

Fructose

Some shoppers are cutting back on whole fruit, concerned about the natural fructose sugars that fruit contains. While this effort may be well intentioned, it’s not supported by science.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize the need to reduce our intake of added sugars (sucrose, cane sugar, honey, agave, etc.) but not the natural sugars in fruits, vegetables and their juices.

High intake of high-fructose sweeteners (including agave and high-fructose corn syrup) may contribute to liver disease. Our livers can’t keep up with the excessive amounts of fructose found in modern diets, especially common in sodas and processed foods.

The natural (intrinsic) sugars in whole fruits are packaged with nature’s perfect mixture of nutrients to counterbalance any negative effects from fruit sugar. Whole fruits contain fibers that slow the release of sugar into our circulation and phytonutrients that help support glucose metabolism. No matter how many servings of fruit you eat, your body will be able to manage the sugars appropriately.

That’s why juice is enjoyed best in moderation, rather than as a primary source of fruits or vegetables. Our livers can handle the fructose from one serving of juice each day, but would be challenged by more than that.

How much juice?

The new AAP recommendations suggest no juice at all until kids turn 1, then limiting fruit juice to 4 ounces per day for kids 1-3 years old, and 6 ounces per day for kids 4-6 years old. Adults (and children older than 6) should keep juice consumption to just 1 cup (8 ounces) per day. Be sure to get a variety of whole fruits and vegetables in addition to the juice!

A recent review from researchers at the University of Washington found that one serving of juice per day is not linked to health concerns in children. It said, “This study does not resolve the debate about the health effects of 100 percent fruit juice among children. However, our study provides evidence that children may drink 100 percent fruit juice in moderation and that the existing recommendations on daily limits are prudent.”

We certainly don’t need to drink juice since our nutritional needs are best met from whole fruits instead of juiced fruits. Juice, consumed in moderation, can be a portion of your daily fruit requirement and a delicious way to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Practical tips:

  • Look for juice with added purée/fiber, or look for “cloudy” juices, or juices with added pulp. These have higher levels of beneficial antioxidants.
  • Dilute 100-percent juice with water or sparkling water for a reduced-sugar beverage.
  • Use juice as a smoothie base and include whole fruits/veggies to provide fibers missing in the juice.
  • Look for lower-sugar juices. Grapefruit juice has 20 percent less sugar than orange juice. Watermelon juice has 50 percent less than apple juice. Tomato juice is lower than other fruit juices.
  • Look for juices with high antioxidant levels: tart cherry, tomato, Concord grape.
  • Consume additional servings of whole fruit and vegetables. Juice should only be one of your five cups per day.
  • Choose organic juices to avoid toxic synthetic pesticide residues.
  • Follow AAP recommendations for children: no juice until age 1. No more than 4 ounces per day for ages 1-3. No more than 6 ounces for ages 4-6. No more than 8 ounces per day ages 7-adult.

Nick Rose, M.S. is a nutrition educator at PCC.

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