Americans consume more than three-quarters of our oranges in juice form, but we might not be getting the expected nutritional pay-off. The problem? Fruit juice doesn’t offer the same dose of fiber as real fruit and also packs in loads of sugar. Photo by Justin Singh

To Juice, or Not to Juice? — The Need-to-Know That cranberry juice mixed with vodka last night doesn’t actually qualify as a serving of fruit (bummer, we know). And how’s this for a sobering reminder: Just one cup of juice (apple, for example) usually has more than 100 calories. Keeping the calorie count in mind is key, too— some nutritionists suggest thinking about juice as a calorie-free addition to a meal could contribute to weight gain, too. One study even revealed kids (even as old as 19) get 10 to 15 percent of their daily calories from juice and other sweetened drinks— and we’ve noticed old habits die hard (who doesn’t still love a little juice or soda with their liquor?) Increasing caloric contribution from sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juices among US children and adolescents, 1988-2004. Wang, Y.C., Bleich, S.N., Gortmaker, S.L. Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management, New York, NY. Pediatrics, 2008 Jun;121(6):e1604-14. .

Our biggest beef with juice (who thought we’d ever use those two words in the same sentence?) is all about sugar content. Fruit naturally has a good deal of sugar, but getting it in juice form makes it all too easy to overdo itwhether real fruit juice or “juice drink." And even 100 percent fruit juice can’t offer the fiber of whole fruit, which is what makes real fruit so filling and helps keep the digestive tract flowing.

Fire Up That Juicer — Your Action Plan

Some studies have even shown juice drinkers generally eat better and have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-juicers Association between fruit juice consumption and self-reported body mass index among adult Canadians. Akhtar-Danesh, N., Dehghan, M. School of Nursing and Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 2010 Apr;23(2):162-8. Diet quality is positively associated with 100% fruit juice consumption in children and adults in the United States: NHANES 2003-2006. O’Neil, C.E., Nicklas, T.A., Zanovec, M., et al. School of Human Ecology, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, Baton Rouge, LA. Nutrition Journal, 2011 Feb 13;10:17. . But the key is getting the good stuff— look for “100% juice” on the label and check the ingredients for unnecessary additives. And home-squeezed juice may also be better than commercially made, one study found Comparison of the nutrient content of fresh fruit juices vs commercial fruit juices. Densupsoontorn, N., Jirapinyo, P., Thamonsiri, N., et al. Department of Pediatrics, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 2002 Aug;85 Suppl 2:S732-8. . The fresh stuff had less sodium (bad in excess) and more potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium (good stuff) than grocery store equivalents.

While most sugar-filled juices aren’t so great, 100 percent real fruit juice does have some benefits. For example, cranberry juice may help prevent UTIs, and (though not ideal) juice can also be a good way for picky eaters to get their vitamins Can a concentrated cranberry extract prevent recurrent urinary tract infections in women? A pilot study. Bailey, D.T., Dalton, C., Joseph Daugherty, F., et al. Helios Integrated Medicine, PC, Boulder, CO. Phytomedicine, 2007 Apr;14(4):237-41. Fortification of orange juice with vitamin D(2) or vitamin D(3) is as effective as an oral supplement in maintaining vitamin D status in adults. Biancuzzo, R.M., Young, A., Bibuld, D., et al. Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, MA, USA. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010 Jun; 91(6):1621-6. . Even under the best conditions, some still may need to avoid juice. For example, even unsweetened juices may still have too much sugar for diabetics. Also, grapefruits and grapefruit juice can interfere with certain prescription drugs— anything from antihistamines to anti-depression medication.

What are your favorite alternatives to sugary fruit juice? Share ideas in the comments below!

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