Juice Gone Wild!
Nutrition Action Healthletter Unpacks “Confusion in Aisle 10”
Minute Maid Help Nourish Your Brain 100% Fruit Juice Blend fairly typifies the new-fangled products in the juice aisle. It’s mostly apple and grape juice—two of the cheapest, least nutritious juices—though its label uses big print to highlight smaller amounts of pomegranate and blueberry juice. Its labels also bear highly misleading non-sequiturs related to brain health, including “Vitamin C is highly concentrated in brain nerve endings.” But according to a review of juices in the current issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter, people worried about memory or brain development needn’t waste their money on this Coca-Cola product.
Nutritionists agree that juice is better than soda. But juice is not good for the waistline, according to Nutrition Action. In 2006, an expert panel comprised of leading scientists recommended limiting daily juice intake to no more than eight ounces per day. Liquid calories aren’t as filling as solid foods, one of several reasons why it’s better to eat fruit than to drink juice. Plus, drinking juice may raise the risk of diabetes.
“Juice makers, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, realize that consumers are concerned about losing weight and reducing their risk of diet-related diseases,” said Nutrition Action senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley, co-author of the review. “But no juice is going to perform miracles for eyes, skin, hearts, colons, or any other part of the body. That goes for just plain juice, and it certainly goes for a juice dressed up with some combination of water, artificial sweeteners, food dyes, or fake fibers.”
Some orange juice labels, like those of Tropicana’s Healthy Heart with Omega-3, imply heart health. But that juice has only 50 milligrams of EPA plus DHA from fish oil, a tiny fraction of what one would get from a serving of heart-healthy salmon. Minute Maid Heart Wiseorange juice, on the other hand, contains a hefty one gram of beneficial plant sterols. Two grams of plant sterols per day can lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol by roughly ten percent over a period of 8 weeks. “Minute Maid wins,” says Nutrition Action.
If you’re watching your waistline, a different Tropicana product, Trop50 Orange has 50 percent less sugar and calories than regular orange juice. Of course, it’s 60 percent added water and only 40 percent juice and is sweetened with the safe high-potency plant-based sweetener Reb A (Pure Via). Trop50 is a smart choice if you like the sweeter taste, says Nutrition Action. (Some Trop50 products play the usual tricks, though. Its Pomegranate Blueberry variety has more apple juice than pomegranate juice and more grape juice than blueberry juice.)
Other examples of juice aisle trickery exposed in Nutrition Action include:
- Ocean Spray Cran-Energy Raspberry. To its credit, it only has 35 calories per serving. Its “energy” presumably comes from its green tea extract’s 55 milligrams of caffeine and not added B vitamins. Otherwise, the drink is basically water, juice (again, more cheap grape than the touted, but more expensive, cranberry or raspberry), added vitamins, safe artificial sweeteners, and, to its discredit, Red 40 dye.
- IZZE. Most carbonated juice drinks like IZZE have no fewer calories than ordinary juice or cola, according to Nutrition Action. Once more, apple and white grape juice are the primary juices, even in IZZE’s more exotic flavors, such as Sparkling Blackberry, Blueberry, Clementine, Grapefruit, Lime, Peach, and Pomegranate. The IZZE Esque line has 50 calories per 12 ounce bottle because it’s 25 percent juice. Nutrition Action suggests adding seltzer to nutrient-rich orange juice to make a lower-calorie “sparkling” juice.
- Vita Coco Coconut Water has “more than 15 times the electrolytes found in sports drinks,” according to the company, which goes on to advise that “Life is hectic enough, and you should be hydrated when you do it.” Any beverage hydrates you, according to Nutrition Action. And the only time one would need electrolytes in a drink is after hours of vigorous exercise. That said, coconut water has roughly just 40 fat-free calories per cup and is a decent source of beneficial potassium
- Welch’s 100% Grape Juice with Fiber gives the impression that its fiber might come from “the whole Concord grape—skins and seeds included.” Rather, the fiber comes from the additive maltodextrin, a starch-like carbohydrate that resists digestion. Nutrition Actionsays there’s no good evidence that maltodextrin, or the dextrin added to V8 High Fiber orSunsweet PlumSmart and Prune Juice Light, confers the kind of benefits as the fiber found in naturally in foods.
Nutrition Action also calculated scores for various juices based on the levels of 12 vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids, plus fiber. Carrot juice led the pack thanks to its high vitamin A and potassium content. Orange juice ranked second, followed by tomato juice (low sodium variety), grapefruit, prune, pineapple, unsweetened cranberry, coconut water, and perhaps surprisingly, considering all the hype generated by POM, pomegranate. Apple and grape juice came in last.
Nutrition Action is published 10 times a year by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, the nonprofit watchdog group that advocates for improved nutrition, food labeling, and food safety policies. Introductory subscriptions are $10. Nutrition Action is advertising-free and, like CSPI, accepts no corporate donations or government grants.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).