Just Juice

All-Natural Choices Avoid Synthetic Additives and Refined Sugar

A dizzying array of ingredients and brands are available to consumers who are simply trying to find the healthiest juice. In your grocer’s cooler today are energy drinks, smoothies, blends, "old-fashioned" styles, herbals, all-natural juices and frozen juice from concentrate. What do you reach for, when all you want is a healthy drink?

Orange juice has the highest vitamin content of any juice, making it "a heavyweight."©PHOTOS TO GO

The important thing is getting the nutrition you need, and many of today’s offerings leave it out. Many "fruit drinks" reveal on their labels that they actually contain 10 percent or less real juice. The basic definitions are these: A "pure fruit juice" contains 100 percent juice, a "nectar" contains less than 100 percent but more than 20 percent juice, and a "fruit drink" contains a minimum of six percent fruit juice. The labels do make a difference.

All-natural juices that are sold commercially are a good bet for obtaining vitamins and other important nutrients. Although they are pasteurized and bottled, it’s the next best thing to making fresh-squeezed juice. But conscientious consumers may want to check the labels to avoid added sugars, concentrates and preservatives.

According to Martin Pamensky of Ceres Juice, a California-based all-natural juice company, "A one-half to three-quarter cup of pure fruit juice is equivalent to a single fruit and it’s rich in natural fruit sugars, fructose and glucose, and above all caffeine-free. But getting pure fruit juice has become problematic, because most drinks and nectars cramming retailers" shelves contain less than half real fruit juice." Also be wary of serving sizes, since many seemingly small bottles contain two to three servings.

Get Your Vitamins

Vitamins such as potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, thiamin, iron, zinc, niacin, malic acid and other important necessary elements such as fiber and sugars are all present in fruits and fruit juices. Oranges, with the highest amount of vitamins of any fruit, pack the most punch. "Compared to other juices, orange juice is higher in protein, vitamin A, B-vitamins, vitamin C (it contains more than 10 times as much vitamin C as apple juice), calcium, iron and potassium, making it a heavyweight among fruit juices," says Dr. William Sears of Askdrsears.com. "Drinking an eight-ounce glass counts as one of your five necessary fruit and vegetable servings for the day."

But juices are much lower in fiber than fruit with the skin intact, cautions dietician Lynn Grieger. "If your diet is low in fiber, choose fresh fruit over juice," she says.

Companies touting all-natural ingredients and freshly squeezed end products with minimal pasteurization have become increasingly popular, with brands such as Odwalla, which also produces Fresh Samantha, and Ultimate Juice Company, which produces the Naked Juice line, now lining the shelves in major food shopping establishments across the country. Mass-market unpasteurized juice does present a risk of possible contamination, making consumers wary. An E.coli O157:H7 outbreak in unpasteurized apple juice sickened 60 people in 1996 and killed a 16-month-old Denver girl.

Naked Juice’s Heather Braun says, "We provide something in a ready-to-go package that still provides people with the nutrition they need." She continues, "We just do fruits and vegetables, and nothing else is added. Sugar comes in about seven different guises these days, and we’re not adding any of it" (see "How Sweet it Isn"t?" Eating Right, November/December 2003). But be careful, because natural sugars in juice do add calories, and may create a problem for diabetics and people on diets. According to Grieger, "If calories are your primary concern, choose fresh fruit over juice and quench your thirst with water." Vegetable juice is lower in sugar than fruit juice.

Drinks with added herbal supplements, while trendy, should be treated with care. Scientists don’t agree whether herbal additives give any added advantage over regular juices. Drinks with herbs such as guarana, Siberian ginseng, St. John’s Wort and gingko biloba are not regulated. In many cases, as in "vitamin waters," the herbs may not be found in great-enough quantity to be beneficial.

The Boston Globe reports, "Most medicinal uses of herbs require much higher concentrations than what is found in vitamin water, which lists many herbs at 25 milligrams." Adrian Fugh-Berman, an assistant clinical professor and herbal specialist at George Washington University, told the Globe, "Twenty-five milligrams of any crude herb would not be enough to do anything." Consumers should realize that supplements added to drinks such as kola and guarana can be more potent than caffeine, and their individual stimulatory effects can vary greatly.

Widely popular commercial fruit drinks, with little to no real fruit juice, are essentially sugar and water. Health website Lifeclinic.com argues that juice in such limited amounts does not have any health benefit. Ocean Spray, for example, does not add any refined sugar to its 100 percent juice products, but does add it to "cocktails" and "juice drinks." Reading labels is the best way to ensure you are buying what’s best for you.

A Fresh Option

If you make your own juice shakes or blends, you"ll know what went into them, and there’s no bottling or pasteurization process to remove the enzymes naturally found in raw foods. "The nutritional value of store-bought bottled juice is dramatically reduced because enzymes are destroyed in the processing needed to bring it to the shelf," writes Canadian Living magazine. "The closer you can stay to fresh, the greater the vitamin and mineral content that remains intact."

Also, some alternative health practitioners argue that the water within fruits and vegetables is exceptionally pure, having been filtered through the plant. Some worry that the water added to juices made from concentrates may not be as healthful.

Making your own juices can also provide an alternative to a humdrum breakfast. Additives can include protein powder, ginger and wheatgrass, an excellent source of energy and nutrients. Depending on the ingredients, fresh juices can be refrigerated and kept for up to 48 hours.

There are a wide variety of juicers and presses available for home use, ranging in price from $45 to $450. Popular brands include Country Home Products, Omega, Miracle Ultra-Matic Juice Extractor, Juiceman and Acme. You can also have fresh juice made at your local juice bar or health food store.

The bottom line is that if you have the time, freshly squeezed juice is the best choice. If you’re buying off the shelf, try to avoid juices with artificial ingredients and anything less than 100 percent juice.

CONTACT: Ceres Juice, (800)778-6498, www.ceresjuices.com; Naked Juice, (626)852-2500, www.nakedjuice.com; Odwalla, (800)ODWALLA, www.odwalla.com

KERRI LINDEN is a juice-drinking E intern.