Have you been drinking a lot of juice for years because you thought it was good for you? I have. I’m far from alone.
For decades, juice was considered a health food by those who knew best. The agency that formulated the U.S. government’s guidelines — the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — considers fruit juice “part of the fruit group” and vegetable juice “part of the vegetable group.” On its website, the USDA explicitly identifies apple juice, grape juice, grapefruit juice, and orange juice as “commonly eaten fruits” and tomato juice as a commonly eaten vegetable.
Fruits and vegetables, including juices, reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, the USDA reports. Besides that, Americans have listened for decades to TV commercials that emphasized that juices were loaded with important minerals and vitamins.
So the case on healthy juice is closed, right? Wrong, according to several reports that I have read recently. “Fruit juice went from health food to junk food,” says a 2014 headline in The Guardian newspaper. “Juice is, nutritionally, not much better than soda,” says a 2014 subhead in The Atlantic magazine. “The worst (juices) are hardly better than liquid candy,” says a WebMD article.
What is a Healthy Juice?
So is there healthy juice or not? I have read several articles on this topic in the past few days. My conclusion is that the best answer is “sort of.” A Mayo Clinic article entitled “Is juicing healthier than eating whole fruits or vegetables?” probably puts it best. “Juicing extracts the juice from fresh fruits or vegetables,” the article reports. “The resulting liquid contains most of the vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals (phytonutrients) found in the whole fruit. However, whole fruits and vegetables also have healthy fiber, which is lost during most juicing.”
After reading all these articles, I have to admit that I’m a bit confused about why juice is classified as a fruit or vegetable. One cup of orange juice has 0.5 grams of fiber. One cup of apple juice has 0.2 grams. An orange, though, has 4.3 grams of fiber. An apple has 3.3 grams. Fiber is a crucial reason why fruits and vegetables reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.
On the other hand, juice if it is 100 percent fruit juice and 100 percent vegetable juice does contain most of the vitamins and minerals that are in fruits and vegetables. The articles that I read emphasize that “100 percent” juices are nutritionally far superior than other juices such as sweetened juices and fruit juice cocktails. One hundred percent juices are an “excellent provider” of vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C. reports the SFGate article “Is 100 Percent Fruit Juice Healthy?” These juices also often have a lot of folate and potassium.
The real drawback to juices — why they went from health food to junk food in the words of The Guardian — is that they are sometimes loaded with sugar. The British government is warning people that fruit juice has as much sugar as Coca Cola and should be consumed sparingly, reports The Atlantic magazine in the article “Misunderstanding Orange Juice as a Health Drink.” The warning came after a medical study “found fruit juice is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes,” reports The Guardian article.
The bottom line is that you should be careful about drinking too much juice. You should also drink the specific juices that have been deemed nutritionally superior and avoid those that are nutritionally inferior. The WebMD article “Juices: The Best and Worst for Your Health” has some recommendations.
The article recommends the following juices:
- Vegetable: The lycopene in tomato juice might reduce your risk of prostate cancer.
- Cranberry: It’s packed with vitamin C and may reduce your risk of urinary tract infections.
- Red grape: Like red wine, it has flavonoids and resveratrol that reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Prune: It relieves constipation and is packed with iron and potassium.
- Orange: It contains lots of vitamin C and is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D so it is good for your bones.