How Healthy is Your Juice?
With the proliferation of juice bars, cold-pressed juices for sale in every grocery store and the popularity juicing at home, it would be easy to assume that there is nothing better you can do for your health than down several glasses of the stuff per day. But don’t think you can simply guzzle some produce and call it good. “Juices can help your overall intake of fruits and vegetables,” says Lauri Wright, Ph.D., R.D., assistant professor, University of North Florida. “But the majority of fruits and vegetables in your diet should still come in their whole form.”
The Upsides of Juice
Drinking a few glasses of juice can’t entirely replace eating your fruits and veggies, and it can’t make up for all the nutritional shortfalls of unhealthy eating. But it can boost the nutritional quality of an already-healthy diet. Juices that contain 100 percent fruit and/or vegetables (with no added sugars) do count in your daily tally of fruit and veggie servings. And they can be a good way to consume a wider variety of vegetables than you might if you had to actually pick them up with a fork (like kale, chard or beets).
And recent studies have backed up the benefits of moderate juice consumption. One study looked at data from the National Health Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and found those who had moderate consumption of 100 percent orange juice had overall healthier diets (including higher intakes of whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains), lower body mass index, lower cholesterol and higher intake of several key nutrients (like vitamin A, folate, potassium and magnesium) than those who drank no OJ.
The Downsides of Juice
One of the problems with drinking — rather than eating — your produce is that you may be missing out on some valuable fiber. For example, eating an apple gives means consuming nearly 4.5 grams of fiber, while drinking a glass of apple juice provide zero grams. “Fiber is lost when the skin of the fruit or vegetable is removed and the pulp extracted,” says Wright.
Another downside of drinking too much juice is that it’s easy to slurp down a couple hundred calories and lots of sugar without getting the satisfaction of chewing anything. And if you blend your fruits and veggies into a smoothie, it could be 500 or more calories in your cup. Juices and smoothies will be naturally high in sugar that comes from the fruit and vegetables, but be sure the ones your drinking don’t have any added sugar or other sweeteners. “If you drink a glass of juice on its own it will be digested more quickly than if you eat a piece of whole fruit, because it doesn’t have fiber to slow down the digestion,” says Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness.
The good news is that juice and smoothies don’t have to be devoid of fiber. “If you make your own juice, you can stir some of the pulp back in to get those fibrous benefits,” says Rumsey. And, Rumsey points out that the newer, high-powered blenders (such as Vitamix) also help eliminate this problem. “If you blend the entire fruit or vegetable—including the skin—you retain the fiber and all of the nutrients,” she says.