When I was a girl, there was always a glass of orange juice on the breakfast table. Fast-forward 30 years and, for many people, that same glass is not only absent, but shunned. This jump from one extreme to the other has much to do with the “s” word — sugar.
Yes, juice contains sugar, but you can enjoy it as a healthy and guiltless part of your diet — if you know how to separate the good choices from the not-so-good. After all, 100-percent fruit juice can count toward your daily recommended amount of fruit, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Men and women ages 19 to 30 should consume 2 cups of fruit per day, while women 31 and older should eat 1 1/2 cups of fruit per day. If you drink a cup of 100-percent fruit juice, then, it counts as one cup of fruit for the day.
Still, not all juices are created equal. Here’s my take on four popular varieties:
On the upside, cartons or bottles of 100-percent fruit juice contain more than the natural sugar fructose. For example, 1 cup of 100-percent orange juice is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of potassium, folate and thiamine. You can even find OJ fortified with calcium and vitamin D, both of which are nutrients of concern for Americans. Plus, 100-percent orange juice naturally contains the phytonutrient hesperidin, which emerging research suggests may help maintain a healthy blood pressure and blood vessel function.
On the downside, it’s very possible to outweigh the health benefits of 100-percent fruit juice with unhealthy portions. My college boyfriend is a case in point: He used to guzzle a half-gallon of juice in one sitting, consuming about 880 calories and 168 grams sugar without a second thought. That’s an extreme case of overconsumption, and can result in weight gain if done over a long period of time. Even drinking an oversized 16- or 24- fluid ounces (or 2 to 3 cups) of 100-percent juice at breakfast can result in taking in too many calories if it becomes a habit.
A second way store-bought juice can be a bad choice is when the juice contains added sugar. Some food manufacturers add sugar to balance the tart flavor of some juices. Mixed juice drink blends tend to have added sugar or are made from concentrate. They either don’t provide many nutrients or have more sugar than necessary. This is why you always want to look for 100-percent juice on the label.
Homemade juices — which, as long as you’re not adding you’re own sugar, honey or other sweetener — give you the same benefits of 100-percent store-bought juice. What’s more, the fruits and vegetables in them can give you lots of vitamin C and some B vitamins, but since both are easily destroyed by slicing, cooking and juicing, it’s best to prepare your juice right before drinking it.
Still, even DIY juices come with precautions — namely, in terms of calorie and sugar content, not to mention cost, since it takes a ton of fruit to get a significant amount of juice. While all that fruit racks up good-for-you nutrients, again, moderation matters. Plus, you need to keep up with cleaning your juicer or it could harbor pathogenic microorganisms that can potentially make you sick.
Most of the same logic that you can apply to homemade juices apply to juice bars. While slurping them can help you create a diet high in fruits and vegetables, which has been shown to help lower the risk of cancer and heart disease, if you’re ordering a 24-fluid ounce juice, you’re taking in around 450 calories. A small 8- or 12-fluid ounce juice is the way to go. Plus, keep an eye on the cleanliness of the juice shop to make sure they’re cleaning and sanitizing their juicing equipment regularly.
Cold-pressed juices use pressure, instead of heat, to destroy potentially harmful microorganisms so they are safe to drink. They have a short shelf life and, at least to me, taste fresher than traditionally packaged juices. Read the ingredients and the label to make sure you’re drinking no more than 150 calories per serving. Some cold-pressed juices add high-calorie ingredients like coconut or avocado, which are healthy foods, but can rack up the calories in a quick thirst- quencher. With both fresh and cold-pressed juice, using a combo of fruits, vegetables and herbs helps keep calories down. This also allows you to take in an even greater variety of good-for-you nutrients.
No matter which type or types of juice you choose to drink, portion control and moderation are critical; making yourself crazy and fearful of food is not healthy. If you love juice, go ahead and pour yourself a (8- or 12-ounce) glass.
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