Attention shoppers: Which of the following is the healthiest? 1) real fruit juice beverage with 100% vitamin C, 2) 100% orange juice, 3) 100% grape juice, 4) cranberry juice cocktail, or 100% fruit juice made from apple, pear, and orange juice?
Shopping for fruit juice is more complicated than you think. If you answered anything but #2, you might want to stick around for a juice lesson. Elizabeth Somer, RD, and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness joined us with the “juice” on juice:
Juice is a great way to boost your intake of potassium, vitamin C, health-enhancing phytochemicals such as limonene and flavonoids, and other nutrients. And 6 ounces is a serving of fruit, which helps you meet your 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. That is if it’s high-quality juice. But there is more junk than juice at the market these days. Here are your best bets, in order. Followed by those drinks best left on the shelf.
#1. Orange Juice
This is top dog on the juice charts. Loaded with vitamin C (97 milligrams, which is 162% of your daily need in a 1 cup serving). It’s also a great source of folic acid, the B vitamin that lowers your risk for heart disease, birth defects, depression, and possibly cancer. And, people who drink OJ have up to a 21% increase in HDL-cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and a lower risk for developing high blood pressure, thus lowering heart-disease risk. It doesn't’t really matter whether you choose fresh squeezed, canned, bottled, or “from concentrate.” The only downside to this great juice is that a cup supplies 110 calories, while an orange supplies 60 calories and the orange is more likely to fill you up, because it’s packed with fiber, while juice isn't’t. (Even juice with pulp has little or no fiber, less than a gram in a one-cup serving.) If you’re not a big milk drinker, make sure to get the calcium-fortified OJ or orange tangerine with calcium.
#2. Grapefruit Juice
Another great source of potassium and vitamin C. Only downside here is for people on certain medications, such as antihistamines, sedatives, hypertensive medications, estrogens, and HIV drugs, and possibly the antibiotic erythromycin. Grapefruit contains a compound that reduces an enzyme in the intestines that helps metabolize certain drugs. Without this enzyme or with very low levels of it, more amounts of these drugs are absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result, you might get an overdose of the medication. If you’ve always swallowed your medicine with grapefruit juice and had no problems, then there is no reason to stop. But if you take any of these drugs, don’t add large amounts of grapefruit juice to your diet without first talking to you physician or pharmacist. Ruby red grapefruit juice also comes with added calcium and vitamin C.
#3. Prune Juice
It’s not very sexy, but prune juice is a great source of potassium and iron, and supplies modest amounts of vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium. In addition, according to a recent study from Tufts University in Boston, prunes contain the highest antioxidant content of any other fruit or vegetable. Antioxidants are known to lower the risk for everything from heart disease to cancer and cataracts. It does have more calories than other juice, or about 181 calories/1 cup.
#4. Pineapple Juice
Another delightful way to get your fruit, pineapple comes packed with vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and manganese, for only 129 calories/1 cup.
#5. Grape Juice
Granted, grape juice is at the bottom of the fruit barrel when it comes to nutrients. But recent research shows that grapes contain phytochemicals called poly-phenols (the same health-enhancing compounds in found in red wine) that help prevent heart disease by preventing blood clots, keeping LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) from getting oxidized, and enlarging the arteries to increase blood flow. Compounds in grape juice also help keep blood from clotting, which should reduce the risk for stroke and heart attack. Keep in mind, however, that many of these studies have been funded by Welch’s, so we need more evidence before we can place grape juice on the top of the chart.
#6. Cranberry Juice
This one is far from a nutritional powerhouse. In fact, many brands list added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (a fancy word for sugar) as the second ingredient after water, meaning there is more sugar than cranberry in a glass. Cranberry juice’s saving grace is that it contains a group of phytochemicals called tannins that block the binding of germs (E. coli) to cells in the lining of the urinary bladder, thus helping to flush these bugs our of the body and prevent or treat bladder infections. (Blueberries also contain these compounds.) As a preventive, a Harvard study found that women who drank 10 ounces of cranberry juice daily reduced their risks for developing urinary tract infections over a six-month period. A word of warning: Cranberry juice is a help, not a substitute for medical treatment. Check labels, since most cranberry beverages contain anywhere from 10% to 33% cranberry juice, and some are sweetened with highly processed pear or apple juice so that the label reads 100% juice. New versions on the market are fortified with vitamin C and other nutrients.
Juices to Skip
Anytime juice contains the words “beverage,” “ade,” “cocktail,” “drink,” or “blend” you’re likely to be gulping down more sugar than nutrients. It doesn't’t matter if it’s natural, real, or loaded with vitamins. Also, by-pass any juice made from apple, pear, or a combination of these and other juices. Basically, all you’re getting is highly-refined sugar water, not much better than soda pop, even though the manufacturers can tout that the beverage is 100% juice.
- Look for only 100% juice
- Avoid “ade” “cocktail” “drink” or “blend” on label
- Avoid apple, pear, or white grape juice
- Tangerine juice beverage
- Fruit juice blends
- Grape juice beverage
- Grapefruit juice cocktail
- Kiwi passion fruit drink
- Hawaiian punch
- Sunny Delight with calcium
- And, of course, Kool aid
What about the new designer juices, such as acai or gogi berry?
Save your money. Yes, they are high in antioxidants, but all the research on fruits and vegetables showing they lower disease risk, help with weight management, and extend life expectancy, have been done on regular produce you find in your produce department or juice fridge. If you have excess money to spend, then go ahead and buy a designer juice, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re doing any more for your health than you would be drinking OJ.