Juice was a staple of my childhood. Now, with bills and loans and life in general, I long for the time when my toughest choice during the day was whether to take a purple juice box or an orange one. As I grew older, I switched from juice boxes to bottled juice like V-8, trying to read the labels and see if juice was a good choice for me. It can all be kind of confusing—this one says it has no added sugar! So then maybe it’s good for me, right? Should I omit juice altogether, or can I encourage everyone to incorporate it into a healthy, even Paleo, lifestyle?
The first thing to realize is that the word “juice” is a rather vague term. It can be the liquid from a squashed-up orange, or it could be a liquid in a box that we don’t really know where it came from. You’ve got grape juice in cartons, vegetable juice in bottles, and juice you can squeeze yourself at home. So already, we’re seeing lots of variety that we’ve got to take into consideration.
You can probably guess that heavily packaged juice, like the kind that comes in little boxes, isn’t going to be the best for us—it’s got lots of toxic ingredients, including corn syrup. But what about juices you make yourself?
Let’s take a look at an apple. We’ve got a great source of vitamin C here, and of course fiber is another good benefit. Then we’ve also got an antioxidant called quercetin, which has been shown to act as an anti-inflammatory and cancer preventing agent. These are some nice, healthy nutrients that apples can provide, so bottom’s up with the apple juice!
But hold on a second. It turns out that most of these nutrients have vanished somewhere between the apple and the juice. Why? They’re in the skin. When you juice, you’re often extracting the sugariest, least nutrient-dense part of the fruit for consumption. The fiber is gone, because you don’t have the actual fibers of fruit any more, and anything in the skin doesn’t make it into your drink. And if you’re not getting that fiber, all the sugar (fructose) from the fruit isn’t being slowed down as it goes through digestion.
Looks like you haven’t really escaped the curse of too-sugary juices after all. But still, there are all these great health benefits in these fruits! So do you drink juice to get some of the nutrients, or do you avoid juice even though it’s made from real fruit?
Chris Kresser says: “Fructose-sweetened beverages like…juice cause metabolic problems when calories are in excess, and studies have shown that people are not likely to compensate for the additional calories they get from such beverages. [However] I don’t think there’s any basis for avoiding whole fruit simply because it contains fructose.”
Mark Sisson says: “Juice is ultimately a higher sugar, lower nutrient version of its produce sources. Calorie for calorie, for example, you’ll take in more sugar drinking apple juice than you would eating the apple itself. Juice…is just not an adequate substitute for the real/whole source.”
Juice may seem like a great source of nutrients, but because of the high sugar content and because many of the nutrients remain in parts of the fruit that don’t make it into juice, you’re better off just eating whatever product you were going to make juice out of. Beats cleaning the juicer anyway, right?