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Raising a Glass to 100% Fruit Juice

By Lori Zanteson

From apple to passion fruit and pomegranate to tangerine, supermarket shelves are brimming with fruit juices made with all-natural flavors and exotic blends. In fact, juices have become so popular that they’re squeezing out soft drinks and other healthful beverage competitors.

Led by 100% fruit juices touting healthful ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, the global juice industry was worth $84 billion in 2010 and is expected to exceed $92 billion by 2015, according to MarketLine, a global business research company.

Driven by consumer demand for more healthful foods and beverages, 100% fruit juices never have been so enticing. However, as with any dietary trend, it’s important to look beyond what’s often considered marketing hype to determine whether these products truly are healthful. Here, dietitians share their views on the value of 100% fruit juice and the ways in which they counsel clients to include them into a healthful diet.

No Substitute
Squeezed from whole fruit, 100% fruit juices have no added sweeteners, additives, or preservatives, which helps make them popular. They also contain important vitamins, minerals, and beneficial phytonutrients at higher levels than fruit juice cocktails and juices with added sweeteners.

However, though it may seem easier for clients to meet their daily fruit requirements by drinking fruit juice, dietitians believe it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for eating whole fruit. “Whole fruits contain the seeds, peels, and fiber in many cases, so they’re richer in nutrients, and the sugars are absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream,” says Sharon Palmer, RD, author of The Plant-Powered Diet and editor of the Environmental Nutrition newsletter. “When you make juice and discard the fiber, skins, peels, and seeds, you may be throwing away the richest parts of the fruit. Several studies have indicated that most of the phytochemical activity is in the peels of the fruit.”

Moreover, it takes several pieces of whole fruit to produce one 4-oz serving of juice. “That's one of the problems with relying only on juice as your fruit serving,” Palmer says. “You’re getting a very concentrated source of the natural fruit sugars without the fiber to slow down the absorption into the bloodstream.”

It may not be apparent to clients that the calories and natural sugar content in one small glass of juice is much higher than one serving of whole fruit. And with the lack of satiating dietary fiber, it’s easy to drink more than one serving at a time.

Go Whole
“For most of my clients, I recommend they eat their fruit instead of drink it,” says Brooke Schantz, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, CEO and founder of Bitchin’ Nutrition in Chicago. “The only populations I’d recommend to drink juice would be those athletes that need to meet very high calorie needs or patients that are underweight.” Since most of Schantz’s clients are overweight or obese, she advises against drinking any sugar-sweetened beverages, including juice.

Nevertheless, school meal programs include juice as a convenient, inexpensive option, but under the new nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program, juice will comprise only one-half of the daily fruit servings. “We try to limit the amount of juice we serve our children,” says Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, director of the Burke County school nutrition program in Waynesboro, Georgia.

Burke County schools offer a 4-oz serving of 100% juice each day for breakfast and only once every six weeks when they serve breakfast for lunch. “I don’t like our children getting juice as their fruit at lunch. I think they need fresh, frozen, or canned fruit. They need to know what real fruit looks like,” Martin says. 

While many RDs believe it’s better to get daily fruit servings from whole fruits as much as possible, Palmer says it’s important to meet clients where they are. “If a glass of OJ is their morning tradition dating back decades, I think we can let people fit this into a healthful diet by showing them how to be selective of their juice and limiting portion sizes. Most experts agree that up to one 4-oz serving of 100% fruit juice is an acceptable part of a healthful diet,” she says.

Clients may have much to love about 100% fruit juices, but it’s best to advise them to limit their intake. When fruit juices are part of a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, raising a glass of 100% fruit juice each day can make good sense.

— Lori Zanteson is a food, nutrition, and health writer based in southern California.


Guidelines for Americans for Fruit Juice Consumption

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate, most adults should eat 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit daily. However, most adults and children aged 4 and older aren’t meeting their daily requirements. In fact, Americans between the ages of 2 and 30 are getting most of their fruit from 100% fruit juices.

One cup of 100% fruit juice is equal to 1 cup of fruit, according to MyPlate guidelines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no fruit juice servings for children under the age of 6 months; 4 to 6 oz of 100% fruit juice for children aged 6 months to 6 years, and 8 to 12 oz for kids aged 7 and older.

— LZ