It is hard to believe than once upon a time, the only choices of juice in supermarkets were orange, grapefruit, grape, and cranberry. Now there is not only an apparently infinite assortment of juices, but also of blended fruit and vegetable juices. You’ve already learned that fruit and vegetable juices are great sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals that help fight diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. You’ve also learned that any fruit or vegetable juice you enjoy can count toward the MyPyramid recommended number of servings.
Is there a downside to fruit and vegetable juices? There can be. It is very important to be a conscientious label reader when selecting juices. Juices can add extra calories, and not all juices are uniformly beneficial. Fruit/vegetable flavor does not necessarily equal fruit/vegetable nutrition.10 The best nutritional choice is 100 percent fruit/vegetable juice. “Juice drinks,” “fruit-flavored drinks,” or “juice blends” contain little real juice, but serve up quite a bit of added sugar. Remember, too, that even 100 percent fruit/vegetable juice lacks the fiber of the whole fruit or vegetable. Additionally, some juices use concentrated white grape juice as a sweetener, making the beverage higher in simple sugar and calories even though the label can truthfully claim that the beverage is 100 percent fruit juice.11
JUICES WITH BENEFITS After making sure your juice is 100 percent pure juice, look at the color of the juice. As a general rule, the more colorful the juice is, or the darker its color, the more nutritious the juice is. One example is pink grapefruit juice, which contains two chemicals that function as antioxidants and phytochemicals not found in regular grapefruit juice: lycopene and beta-carotene.12 Cranberry juice products available commercially vary extensively, but 10—12 ounces of 27 percent cranberry juice per day is protective against urinary tract infections. Cranberry juice also contains the phytochemical polyphenol, which is believed to protect against heart disease and cancer.13
Citrus fruits and juices are rich in vitamins (vitamin C, folate) and flavonoids (phytochemicals) that help reduce overall rate of cancer occurrence. Ounce for ounce, orange juice is the most nutrient-dense juice consumed in the United States. Additionally, citrus juices are rich in potassium and low in sodium content, which may reduce risk of high blood pressure and stroke.14 The best orange juice, of course, is freshly squeezed; the packaged orange juice you purchase in stores loses vitamin C content daily. Compared to orange juice purchased in gable-top cartons, orange juice sold in plastic jugs retains vitamin C content the best, losing only 2 percent of its vitamin C daily. Orange juice stored in gable-top cartons will have lost most of its vitamin C content by its expiration date.15
Orange juice fortified with calcium is also available. Each ounce of calcium-fortified orange juice provides the same amount of absorbable calcium as an ounce of milk. This is an easy way to get calcium or increase calcium intake if you don’t like or can’t consume dairy foods.
Tomatoes and tomato products are rich in nutrients and the phytochemical lycopene. Lycopene has been found to be protective against prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease. One word of caution: Salt is often added to tomato products, especially tomato juice. Those with high blood pressure or at risk for high blood pressure may prefer to use low-sodium versions of these products.16