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Juice Gone Wild

Confusion on Aisle 10

by Jayne Hurley and Bonnie Liebman, Jan/Feb 2012

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Juice beats soda. That's no surprise. But the sky's no longer the limit even for nutrient-packed juices like orange. In 2006, a panel of experts recommended that most Americans drink no more than one cup (8 oz.) of fruit juice a day.


Why? Because we don't compensate for the calories we get from liquids by eating less food later. So juices aren't good for the waistline. And they may raise the risk of diabetes (see Sept. 2008, cover story).


Maybe the bad press is one reason the juice aisle has gone wild. Labels are pushing everything from antioxidants and energy to hydration and heart health. And companies are making juice lighter, more sparkling, more fortified...and more confusing.


Here's what's new.

Information compiled by Paige Einstein.

Lighten Up

"50% less sugar & calories," boasts the Trop50 Orange label.

If you like the taste—which is somewhat sweeter than OJ—Trop50 Orange is a smart move. It's about 40 percent juice and 60 percent water plus Reb A (Pure Via), a safe sweetener extracted from the stevia plant. An 8 oz. glass has just 50 calories.

If you want a light juice, find one that uses a safe sweetener like Reb A or sucralose.

Just keep in mind that some Trop50 flavors play the usual juice tricks. The Pomegranate Blueberry, for example, has more apple than pomegranate and more grape than blueberry. And the lemonades are just 10 percent juice plus Reb A and ordinary sugar.

Trop50 isn't the only light juice that uses safe low-calorie sweeteners. Ocean Spray Cran-Energy and V8 V-Fusion Light use sucralose (Splenda). And Sunsweet Light PlumSmart and Prune Juice Light use sucralose and sorbitol, a safe sugar alcohol (though it may cause gas). Lakewood and R.W. Knudsen also add Reb A to their Lights. But Knudsen still has 60 to 80 calories per cup and Sunsweet Prune Juice Light has 100 calories.

Even so, they all beat Ocean Spray Diet (and some Light flavors), Old Orchard Healthy Balance, V8 Diet Splash, and Welch’s Light. All say "sweetened with Splenda" on the label, but also contain the poorly tested sweetener acesulfame potassium. Minute Maid Light adds a second questionable sweetener—aspartame.

"Natural" Energy?

"Made with the goodness of real cranberries and green tea extract for your natural caffeine boost," says the Cran-Energy Raspberry Energy Juice Drink bottle. "Plus, it’s loaded with Vitamins B & C."

Cran-Energy’s added B vitamins won’t give you energy, but its caffeine will.

Cran-Energy has just 35 calories and no unsafe sweeteners (that's good). But its caffeine (55 milligrams per 8 oz. cup) is no more natural than coffee's (240 mg in a 12 oz. "tall" Starbucks). And what's so natural about a drink that’s mostly water, juice (more grape than cranberry or raspberry), added vitamins, and Red 40 dye?

Minute Maid Natural Energy Pomegranate Berry Enhanced Juice Drink is more misleading. It's basically water, pear juice, and sugar, dressed up to look like pomegranate and berry juices (which are less than 1 percent of the drink). Its caffeine (around 40 mg in a 120-calorie, 12 oz. bottle) comes not just from the "yerba mate extract" featured in big print on the label, but from the "caffeine from coffee beans" in small print. (Yerba mate leaves, which are used to make tea, contain caffeine.)

V8 V-Fusion + Energy touts its "natural energy from green tea." It's also an "excellent source of B vitamins," which perpetuates the myth that B vitamins make you feel energetic. At least it's half juice (though there isn’t much of the mango, peach, blueberry, or pomegranate that are pictured on the bottles).

Bottom line: Energy juice drinks can supply caffeine, but it's no better than the caffeine you get from coffee or tea. And don't get snookered by vitamins and bait-and-switch juices.

Izze Isn't

"All natural & true to the fruit." That's how IZZE describes its Sparkling Juices. Yet IZZE's Sparkling Blackberry, Blueberry, Clementine, Grapefruit, Lime, Peach, and Pomegranate are largely made of only two juices—apple and white grape.

Sparkling juices have no fewer calories than ordinary juice...or cola.

And IZZE isn't alone. The Switch, Knudsen Spritzers, Nestlé Juicy Juice Sparkling, Ocean Spray Sparkling, and Trader Joe's Sparkling (except Blueberry) may name or show every fruit from berries to black cherries on their labels. But inside the bottles, they’re mostly the least nutritious (and least expensive) white grape and apple juices.

What's more, most sparkling juices have around 100 calories per (8 oz.) cup. That’s about the same as cola.

Exceptions: Welch's Fruit Fizz has 70 calories per 8.4 oz. can because it's only 50 percent juice. The IZZE Esque line has 50 calories per 12 oz. bottle because it's 25 percent juice. And Ocean Spray Diet Sparkling manages to hit 10 calories in an 8.4 oz. can by dropping the juice to just 10 percent (and sweetening with poorly tested acesulfame potassium).

If you want a sparkling juice, add seltzer to nutrient-rich orange juice. Voilà! Half the calories, not too sweet, and probably cheaper than gussied up grape and apple juice.

Coconut What?

Perhaps you're wondering what coconut water is doing in a juice article (well, coconut is a fruit) and, more importantly, what the heck it is.

Most people can hydrate perfectly well with water.

Coconut milk (which is loaded with saturated fat and calories) comes from squeezing grated coconut meat. Coconut water is the liquid that pours out when you crack open a young green coconut. It has roughly 40 calories per cup, zero fat, and zero protein. Its claim to fame: hydration.

"Vita Coco has more than 15 times the electrolytes found in sports drinks," claims the leading brand, which is imported from Brazil. "It's okay if you're not a marathon runner, a football player or Tour de France winner," adds the label. "Life is hectic enough, and you should be hydrated while you live it."

Hello? Any beverage hydrates you. The only time you might need electrolytes—like sodium, potassium, or chloride—is after hours of vigorous exercise. Marathon runners who drink too much plain water can dilute their sodium levels enough to cause cardiac arrest. A hectic life won't do that.

That said, coconut water's potassium (300 to 500 milligrams per cup) is a real asset. Most people don't get anywhere near the daily target (4,700 mg) that can help lower blood pressure. But unless you've been sweating for hours, hydrate with water.

Playing Hearts

Minute Maid's sterols are better for your heart than Tropicana’s DHA + EPA.

"Healthy Heart with Omega-3," says the Tropicana orange juice bottle. "Proven to help reduce cholesterol," says the Minute Maid Heart Wise carton. Which is best?

Minute Maid wins. Each 8 oz. cup has 1 gram of plant sterols. Two grams a day can lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol by roughly 10 percent.

In contrast, Tropicana has no plant sterols. Each cup contains 50 milligrams of EPA plus DHA from fish oil. That's a fraction of the 1,000 to 3,500 mg you'd get in a 6 oz. serving of salmon. And although there’s decent evidence that fish oil prevents heart attacks, it's not a slam dunk.

Juicy Fruit

juicy fruit

Not all juices are created equal. We calculated scores based on the levels of 12 vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids, plus fiber. (We left out juices like blueberry and açai because numbers for some of their nutrients aren't available.) Carrot juice leads the pack because it’s so rich in vitamin A (and it packs a nice potassium punch as well).

A few caveats: Tomato juice is high in salt unless the label says "low sodium." And our score reflects nutrient levels in pure cranberry juice, even though it’s rarely sold without other juices or sweetened water mixed in.

And keep in mind that calories vary. An 8 oz. glass of apple, blueberry, carrot, cranberry, grapefruit, orange, or pineapple juice has 100 to 130 calories, while a glass of grape, pomegranate, or prune juice has 150 to 180.

These days, much of what you hear about juices goes beyond vitamins and minerals. A future article will look at whether blueberry, pomegranate, tart cherry, or other juices (or fruits) can improve health.

Claims to Ignore

When will bogus claims disappear? When the FDA stops napping and juice makers decide to stop raking in the easy dough. In other words, not anytime soon. Here are a few examples:

Antioxidants. "Essential antioxidants," says V8’s label. "Nutrients that help support the immune system. Each 6.5 oz. can is an excellent source of vitamin A, C, & E."

Just about any food could have the same A, C, and E, since they’re added by the manufacturer. And any food that contains any vitamin or mineral can claim to "support the immune system."

Claims with words like "support," "enhance," and "maintain" need no hard evidence, according to the FDA. Yet we do have hard evidence that high doses of vitamins A, C, or E don't lower the risk of cancer or heart disease.

It’s not just V8. Knudsen Simply Nutritious Mega Antioxidant, Minute Maid Antioxidants Enhanced Lemonade, and Tropicana Antioxidant Advantage play the same game. Then there’s Old Orchard Very Cherre Tart Cherry Blueberry, which claims to be "antioxidant rich" because it has "3,700 ORAC units."

ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) measures how well a food can keep a certain molecule from decomposing when mixed with a free-radical-generating chemical in a test tube. Does a high ORAC score mean that the food neutralizes free radicals in the body? Do fewer free radicals translate into a lower risk of disease? No one knows.

Fiber. "Not sure people know but we press the whole Concord grape—skins and seeds included," says the label of Welch’s 100% Grape Juice with Fiber.

Maybe, but just about all of the fiber in the juice comes from added "resistant" maltodextrin, a starch-like carbohydrate that’s resistant to digestion, which is why it’s technically fiber. However, there’s no good evidence that maltodextrin aids with regularity or confers any other of fiber’s benefits.

Ditto for the dextrin that’s added to V8 High Fiber and Sunsweet PlumSmart and Prune Juice Light. Only regular prune juice has the real thing.

DHA. Minute Maid Help Nourish Your Brain 100% Fruit Juice Blend probably does more to help nourish Coca- Cola, which owns Minute Maid. Coke adds a smidgen (50 milligrams) of DHA from algae to each cup of mostly apple and grape juice—which it fobs off as pomegranate and blueberry. (DHA is one of the two main omega-3 fats in fish oil.)

Then it tosses in a handful of misleading, need-no-evidence claims (like "DHA is a key building block in the brain" and "Vitamin C is highly concentrated in brain nerve endings").

The result: millions of adults worried about their memories and millions of children whose parents are worried about brain development are drinking juice they'd be better off without.

Serving Size Scams

"2 servings of fruit...in every 8 ounce glass," says the bottle of Fruit2day. Apple & Eve Fruitables and Ocean Spray Fruit & Veggie make similar claims.

Eight ounces of juice counts as two servings of fruit, says the USDA.

How do juice makers squeeze two servings of fruit (and/or vegetables) into one 8 oz. glass? Simple. They use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s serving size for juice or fruit, which is 4 oz.

So an 8 oz. glass of any 100 percent juice is two servings. Clever, huh? Blame it on the Food and Drug Administration, which requires Nutrition Facts labels to use an 8 oz. serving but lets the bottles say that 8 oz. is two servings of fruit or vegetables.

What about Fruit2day’s "real fruit bits"? They might help people eat less food later in the day than a glass of ordinary juice would. But fiber-rich fresh fruit and vegetables are better at curbing appetite than any juice, period.

Another serving-size trick: Naked Pomegranate Blueberry 100% Juice has just 150 calories, according to the Nutrition Facts panel. But that’s for just 8 oz. The entire 15.2 oz. bottle has 300 calories. Most companies—like Odwalla, Welch’s, Tropicana Twister, Arizona, and POM Wonderful—use the same ruse. Only a few brands—Nantucket Nectar and Ocean Spray, for example—give Nutrition Facts for the entire bottle.

Why Water

"The Fruit2O and Veryfine acquisitions have been a gold mine for us," Billy Cyr, CEO of Sunny Delight Beverages Co., recently told Smart Business magazine.

Fruit-flavored waters may help you cut back on juice, but tap water is better.

Fruit2O is water, fruit flavoring, and the safe sweetener sucralose (Splenda). And like Sunny Delight, many of Veryfine’s juices are a mix of juice and sugar water. No wonder they make a bundle for SunnyD.

Nevertheless, if you’re trying to cut back on juice, artificially sweetened fruit-flavored waters (like Fruit2O and Aquafina FlavorSplash) or an unsweetened flavored seltzer or water (like Deer Park Sparkling or Poland Spring Sparkling) may help you switch.

Experts recommend two to six (8 oz.) cups of water a day (along with up to five cups of unsweetened coffee or tea and up to two cups of low-fat milk or soy milk). Our advice: make it tap water. That’s what’s in nearly half of all bottled waters anyway.

You’ll help stop the flood of nearly 95 million plastic water bottles a day, only about 20 percent of which ever get recycled. And the oil that goes into making, shipping, and refrigerating bottles of water doesn’t do the planet any favors.

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This article is reprinted from the January/February issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter. To view the full content click below.

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