is juice healthy? the answer may surprise you

Jessica Penner, RDNutrition, Smarten Up18 Comments

Juice keeps popping up on my newsfeed. Some people exult the wonders of home juicing and expensive cold-pressed juices, while others lambast Canada’s Food Guide for including fruit juice as an option in the Fruit and Vegetable food group.

So? Is juice a nutritious friend or a foe? Let’s get to the bottom of this.

What’s the difference between fruit and juice?

Just so we’re on the same page, juice is what you get when you extract the liquid from a fruit or vegetable, leaving behind all the fibrous material.  Nearly ALL the calories in juice come from the natural sugar present in the fruit. Since the fibrous material was left behind, there’s very little to NO fibre to be found in the juice.  Check out the fibre in orange juice, compared to the sugar.

  Calories Protein Fat Carbs Fibre Sugar
½ cup raw orange juice 59 0.92g 0.26g 13.63g 0.3g 11.01g

On the other hand, orange juice is a source of potassium, folate, and Vitamin C. It also contains trace amounts of other vitamins and minerals.

Nutrition Info from: Canadian Nutrient File

Do infants need juice?   Hella-no! Babies are in a sensitive time of growth and have very specific nutrient needs. Until 6 months old, their only source of fluid should be breastmilk or infant formula. Afterwards, water can be offered to satisfy thirst requirements. You don’t want babies to displace what they would otherwise be getting from nutritionally dense breastmilk with the nutritionally sparse juice.

There should be a law against it but you’ll actually find juice in the baby food aisle. I hate this because its mere presence might lead someone to believe that since “baby juice” exists, it’s something they should probably feed to their child. (FYI, there’s nothing special about “baby juice” except that it’s more expensive.)

Notes: in some cases, a medical doctor may recommend juice as a treatment to prevent constipation. This should only be done when advised by the infant’s paediatrician.

Do children need juice?   NO. If parents would still like to give their children juice, it’s recommended that they give no more than 1/2 cup (125 ml) per day. Similar to infancy, you don’t want kids to fill up on juice and miss out on the nutrients that other foods provide.

While I generally recommend that parents skip the juice, there may be certain situations in which it’s warranted. For example, if you have a child who has not yet learned to like fruits and veggies, juice could provide the needed vitamin C.

Maryann Jacobsen at Raise Healthy Eaters gives her take on juice for kids. She is much more juice-friendly than I am, so I thought I’d share another point of view. Please read it in more detail, but as a summary:

  1. Make sure it’s 100% fruit juice
  2. Check the serving size
  3. Beware of fruit drinks
  4. The “when” and “how” of offering juice is important
  5. Try a variety of juice flavours

Do adults need juice?   NO. If you want to enjoy juice, stick to 1/2 cup (125 ml) per day.

To sum up: no one needs juice. I honestly thought this had become common knowledge but I realized I assumed incorrectly when I overheard a mom at a restaurant last week say this to her son: “Don’t fill up on water! You’re getting juice with your meal!”

What? I… I just can’t even…

Why do people think juice is helpful?

Once upon a time, before fridges and freezers were commonplace in the home and globalization provided fresh fruit year round, juice was a reliable choice for preventing scurvy, via vitamin C. Fruits and vegetables are the main dietary sources of this essential nutrient.

These days, if an adult is unable to access or eat whole fruit, I’d recommend that they reach for a high quality Vitamin C supplement. That way they’re not consuming excess sugar just to get the nutrients they need.

Why I don’t recommend juice

I know… you grew up getting a glass of apple juice every morning with breakfast. So did I. But times have changed. Sweets and sugar seem to be everywhere these days, and kids are getting enough. Birthday parties, special events, Halloween, Christmas, Easter… everything includes sugar for kids.  I’d wager that our grandparents weren’t exposed to as many treats when they were children, so drinking juice everyday wasn’t such a big deal back then.

I don’t know about you but I would rather keep juice out of my house and let my children enjoy all those treats on special occasions.  Instead of giving kids juice, just give them a whole fruit. Check out this video to see how eating a whole fruit limits the amount of sugar you consume:

 

What about diluting juice?

On the one hand it sounds like a good idea to dilute the juice you give to children. That way they’re only getting half the sugar, right? I recently heard an argument as to why you actually shouldn’t dilute juice. This Dietitian’s reasoning was that if children are given juice on occasion, they know that it’s special because it’s sweet. It helps to keep it as a treat. If you dilute it, you may be tempted to offer it more often. And then the danger is that the child no longer thinks of juice as a sometimes food but as an everyday food. They might then think that all water should be slightly sweet and start to balk at plain water. I don’t know if these claims are substantiated but it sure is food for thought.

Home Juicing and Cold-Pressed Juice

A lot of claims are made about the benefits of juicing. This is all snake oil. Check out their claims.

Juicing claim: Fresh is best! 

What is meant by fresh? Was it freshly picked off the tree that morning? Then I would agree, fresh is best. But if the orange was picked in Florida, kept in a warehouse, trucked up to Winnipeg, kept in another warehouse, placed on a bright grocery store shelf, brought home, and then juiced, I wouldn’t consider that to be all that fresh. Time, oxygen, and light will lower the nutritional content of fresh produce. One way to counteract this is to freeze produce shortly after harvesting. Freezing will lock in the nutrients.

should i buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables?

Fresh fruit is best. Fresh juice is not.

Juicing claim: “Faster way to absorb nutrients!”

Yup, that’s 100% true. But it’s not a benefit. Unless you’re running a marathon and need some instant energy, or you have diabetes and are experiencing dangerously low blood sugar (a medical emergency), it’s best if your body absorbs nutrients (sugar) more slowly. It’s a lot easier for your body to handle. When you drink juice (which is mainly just sugar), your body rapidly takes up the sugar, spiking your blood sugar, and sending your body into a hormonal panic mode to deal with this sugar flood.

In contrast, the fibre in the fruit slows down the rate of absorption of sugar, making it much easier for your body to deal with.

Juicing claim: Fast absorption of nutrients gives your digestive system a well-needed rest!

Someone I knew recently had a heart attack. This event made me stop and think about our hearts. The heart is such an amazing organ. From the day it starts beating inside our mothers’ wombs to the day we die, it keeps on ticking. It NEVER takes a break. It doesn’t need to, nor do you want it to!

Same with your lungs.  The way to keep your lungs and heart healthy is not via rest, but with exercise! When exercising, your heart beats faster and contracts more forcefully. This serves to strengthen it and make it more efficient when it goes back to its baseline rate.

For your digestive system, it’s also important to help support its functioning. In contrast to juice, foods containing fibre are one known way to support the health of intestinal cells.

The science is pretty young on this so we don’t have any clear answers, but complete, occasional fasting (aka intermittent fasting) may provide health benefits. Complete fasting means going 24 hours without any food, not just skipping a meal and grabbing a bottle of juice instead.

Juicing claim: Releases enzymes locked away in the fibre matrix

When you chew fruit, you also break apart the “fibre matrix.” Basically your teeth are an old-fashioned cold-pressing juicer. Just makes sure you don’t swallow the fruit whole, and you’re good to go! Take your time to chew and savour your fruit.

Use your teeth to make cold-pressed juice!

Are there any benefits to these enzymes anyway? Your body produces the enzymes necessary to digest food. Other than pepsin, which is activated by the stomach’s acid, the body’s digestive enzymes are excreted after food passes through the acidic stomach. If they were released earlier, they would be inactivated by the acid. So, any of the enzymes you eat in the fruit will most likely be rendered useless by the stomach anyway.

Juicing claim: Lose weight!

Juicing will not make you lose weight.

Juicing will not boost your metabolism.

Juicing will not erase your cellulite.

Juicing will not burn fat.

If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Juicing claim: detox your body!

With the help of the liver, kidneys, gut, and other organs, our the human body is constantly detoxifying itself. Again, it’s important to help support our organs by eating a healthy diet but the overall picture is key, not eating whatever you want and then going on a juicing cleanse to erase the damage you’ve done. A good analogy is a father son relationship. For the son’s well being it’s incredibly important for the father to be a constant, loving, caring presence in his life. The father needs to invest daily in the relationship for it to grow and be healthy. Despite the father’s best efforts, he will sometime mess up. He might miss a baseball game without realizing just how important it was to his son that he was there. But he continues to pour love into his son. This son grows up, feeling secure in his relationship with his father. He is emotional, socially, and psychologically healthy. Now, imagine if the father lived far away and only came to visit his son once a year. For the one week he’s with his son, he’s the textbook picture of a perfect father. He spends all day playing with him then tucks him in at night with a bedtime story. The father makes no mistakes during this week. But despite the perfect parenting, this one week does very little to cultivate a healthy relationship. It doesn’t make up for the rest of the year when he’s not around. The son doesn’t get the everyday care from his father. The son doesn’t get to look up to him as a daily role model.

It’s the same with food. The overall picture is what is important for supporting the health of our organs. Not a 7 day “cleanse” to make up for the lack of overall care.

Freshly-Squeezed or From Concentrate?

The only difference between the freshly-squeezed orange juice and the one from concentrate is the taste. The nutrition analysis is quite similar between the two!

Should Juice Make an Appearance on Canada’s Food Guide?

If I were asked to vote, I would take juice off the food guide. It doesn’t hold the same nutritional weight as it’s whole fruit and veggie counterparts. Dried fruit doesn’t even get mentioned so why should fruit juice be given any special attention?

In 2015 the World Health Organization published a recommendation that adults and children should consume no more than 10% of their caloric intake from sugar.

Let’s say a child needs about 1600 calories per day. 10% of this total would amount to a recommended maximum of 40g of sugar per day. Half a cup of orange juice has 11g of sugar. That’s over a quarter of the recommended intake. When you add in the cereals, milk, yogurt, whole fruit, condiments, and other treats the child eats, it’s really easy to blow right past the recommended maximum!

Anything else?

Well, I think I’ve completely exhausted this topic! What do you think? Did I leave anything out?

I’d love to hear from you! What are your views on juice?

Share This Article

Subscribe for exclusive access to my meal planning hacks ebook!
Smart Nutrition Logo Arrow subscribe

18 Comments on “is juice healthy? the answer may surprise you”

  1. WOOHOO! I LOVE your post! I think you nailed it spot on- I think it’s crazy how many people take up juicing to lose weight without really understanding the whole picture behind it! Excellent synopsis! I am sharing this now!

    1. Thank you for your support on this article! I felt like I might not get much love with this one… telling people their beloved juice wasn’t so beloved after all!

  2. What if your kids don’t like the ‘texture’ of veggies and refuse to eat them. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to hide peas and carrots in a juice? My grandkids are extreemly ‘picky’ about fruit and veggies. My niece hides it all in a ‘slurpy.’ Which is better – almost no veggies or slurpy hidden veggies.?

    1. Great question! But hard to answer in a quick comment. I’m a firm believer in not “sneaking” foods that kids don’t like in other foods. This promotes distrust in the parent if they are ever caught. It’s okay to add healthy foods to favourite foods but the sneakiness part is the problem. Liking new foods is a learning process and can take several (15-20) exposures before child will learn to like it. The best thing to do is to offer fruits and veggies often but not put pressure on the child to eat it. He or she will learn to like most veggies in their own time. Pickiness is frustrating but a completely normal part of childhood!

      1. To me this logic isn’t fair on some parents who may be trying really really hard to get their young fussy child to eat vegetables – I hide veggies from my husband in lasagne and after he’s eaten it I tell him – it surprises him, and he’s able to logically understand that although he’s not a huge cooked veggie fan (he’s a salad person but how much salad can you have) he understands why. If i were to tell my child about the hidden veggies they would just suddenly not want that food purely from the idea of vegetables. Just food for thought

        1. I’ve never doubted the good intentions of parents who sneak veggies into their children’s food. Parents want the best for their children. But I think it’s taking a near sighted point of view. Sure, they ingested some veggies but it didn’t help them to learn to like them! What happens when they start making their own food? I think it’s very important to take the long term point of view and encourage/allow a child to learn to like a food!

  3. Excellent article packed full of good old common sense! I can never understand why people think juicing half a tonne of fruit and veg is better than eating it…and all that good fibre wasted! Not to mention money!

  4. You don’t mention vegetable juice. What is your take on green veg juices that don’t include high levels of fructose?

  5. Love this article. We’ve never really been juice drinkers and have never done a juice cleanse, so I definitely won’t start the habit. We consider juiceboxes a treat in our house.

  6. Great article. Hard to hear though…I love juice! What about dehydrated or dried fruit? Also, what about puréed fruit and vegetables?

    1. Thanks Lori! I know… juice is so lovable. I didn’t think I’d win any popularity points with this article 🙂
      Good questions. Dehydrated fruit is something else that ends up being higher in sugar so should also be eaten in moderation. Pureed fruits lie somewhere in between a whole fresh fruit and juice. Pureed veggies would have virtually no sugar so that can be a free for all!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *