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Good juice or bad: What’s in your glass?

By Kandy Childress • Jun 6, 2019 at 6:00 PM

Ninety degree summer days are upon us. To help combat the sweltering heat, who doesn’t enjoy a tall, cool glass of juice? The color is vibrant, the taste is sweet, and juice is a healthier choice than drinks classified as sugary-sweetened beverages (SSBs). Not so fast, says the scientific community.

Fruit juices can contain as much sugar and as many calories as SSBs. The average SSB contains 150 calories and upwards of 38 grams of sugar per 12-ounce serving, which is more than the recommended amount for women (100 calories/​25 grams of added sugar per day) and right on the money for men (150 calories/​37.5 grams of added sugar per day). The average American consumes close to 100 grams of sugar in any given day or three times more than the recommended amount for women and more double the suggested amount for men.

While the best kinds of juice give you essential nutrients, the worst are hardly better than liquid candy. Consider this fact: “Although the sugar in 100 percent fruit juices is naturally occurring rather than added, once metabolized, the biological response is essentially the same,” says Marta Guasch-Ferre and Frank B. Hue in their article, entitled, “Are Fruit Juices Just as Unhealthy as Sugar-Sweetened Beverages?” published in the May 23, 2019 issue of the JAMA Network.

You may be thinking, so what does the sugar do to my body? There is compelling evidence that higher intakes of SSBs are associated with a wide range of health consequences, including significant weight gain, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease and tooth decay. In a meta-analysis study cited by Guasch-Ferre and Hue, each additional daily serving of SSBs (over and above and the recommended daily amount) was associated with a 13% greater risk of diabetes, while each additional daily serving of fruit juices was associated with a 7% greater risk.

Don’t despair, not all fruit juice falls into the caution category. You just need to know the difference between a good choice and a bad one.

Good Choice: Vegetable Juice

According to WebMD in the article, entitled, “Juices: The Best and Worst for Your Health,” the winner is vegetable juice. Drinking your veggies is convenient and good for you. The lycopene in tomato juice may help lower the risk of prostate cancer. Beet juice may help curb high blood pressure. Pulpy vegetable juice has some fiber — but not as much as raw veggies — and fiber cuts hunger. You also get far less sugar and fewer calories than in the typical fruit juice. Check the sodium, though, or choose a low-salt version.

Bad Choice: Juice ‘Cocktails’

Be on alert for the terms juice cocktail, juice-flavored beverage and juice drink, notes WebMD. Most of the products have only small amounts of real juice. Their main ingredients are usually water, small amounts of juice and some type of sweetener, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Nutritionally, these drinks are similar to most soft drinks: rich in sugar and calories, low in nutrients. Water is the best choice.

The 100% Fruit Juice Dilemma

It’s true that 100% fruit juice is a good source of nutrients like vitamin C and potassium. A compelling problem, aside from the way our bodies metabolize the sugar, is too much juice can be an extra source of sugar and calories. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommendations for children aged one to six years are to limit fruit juices consumption to a maximum of four to six ounces per day, and for children seven years and older, adolescents and adults to limit fruit juices consumption to 8 ounces per day.

Go for the Whole Fruit Instead

Dieticians say the best alternative to drinking fruit juice is to eat the whole fruit instead. You’ll get all the nutrients that are in the fruit’s flesh and pulp, and the fiber will help you feel full and tame your hunger. And, whole fruit has a lower sugar profile than its juiced counterpart.

Kandy Childress is the executive director of Healthy Kingsport. She can be reached at kchildress@healthykingsport.org.