There are so many juices labeled “natural.” Which ones are most healthful?

There are so many juices labeled “natural.” Which ones are most healthful?

—Zenas Lu, Boston, Mass

The most healthful juice you can drink is made fresh, right before you drink it, from (preferably) organic fruits and vegetables with nothing added. The beneficial enzymes, vitamins and minerals are at their peak, and some health practitioners say that the water that comes from inside fruits and vegetables is the purest kind. When juices are packaged and pasteurized, they lose some of their nutritional value. Juices pack a nutritional punch, and are a good way to get part of your daily requirement of fruits and veggies. The American Dietetic Association calls orange juice a “nutrition powerhouse.”

Obviously we don’t always have the time or money to drink fresh juice, and that”s when bottled juices are a good choice over soda or sugary iced teas. But buyer beware: Widely popular commercial “fruit drinks,” with little to no real fruit juice, are largely artificially colored sugar water and contain minimal amounts of fruit juice.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), many fruit “drinks,” “beverages,” “ades” and “cocktails” are nothing more than non-carbonated soda pop. Fruitopia “Real Fruit Beverage” and Sunny Delight “Real Fruit Beverage,” for example, contain only five percent juice. V8 “Splash” is about 25 percent juice and 75 percent sugar-water. CSPI says that, while Fruitopia has “100% vitamin C per serving” in flavors like Strawberry Passion Awareness, the product contains only about five percent strawberry juice and 95 percent high-fructose corn syrup. Similarly, Mystic Mango Mania Fruit Drink has mangoes pictured all over the label, but the product doesn’t contain any mango, except perhaps a small amount included in the “natural flavors.” You”re getting roughly three percent white grape juice and 97 percent sugar water. The health website Lifeclinic.com argues that juice in such limited amounts does not have any health benefit.

Reading labels is the best way to ensure you are buying what”s best for you. If you”re buying off the shelf, try to avoid juices with artificial ingredients or preservatives and, quite simply, anything with less than 100 percent juice. Also, if you are watching your weight, many bottled juices can be high in calories, owing to natural fruit sugars. Drink water and eat whole fruit, which has fiber along with all the nutritional benefits.

CONTACTS: American Dietetic Association, (800) 877-1600, www.eatright.org; Center for Science in the Public Interest, (202) 332-9110, www.cspinet.org; Lifeclinic.com, (800)543-2850, www.lifeclinic.com.