Nutrition information is often confusing and conflicting, making healthy food choices a challenge. Fortunately, there are some recommendations that are consistent. Among these is eating more fruit and vegetables. Depending on how you consume these foods, you may be missing some of the nutrients that make them so healthy.
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They also provide energy in the form of naturally-occurring sugar. Juice is considered equivalent to whole fruits and vegetables in current nutrition recommendations. However, fruit juice has been implicated as a contributor to weight gain and poor health, especially in children.
This is because fruit juice often comes in the form of fruit-flavored drinks that contain little or no actual juice but plenty of added sugar. This is also true of some vegetable and fruit-vegetable juice blends, which are sweetened with sugar. Even though real fruit juice contains about the same amount of sugar and calories as soda or other sweetened drinks, they are not comparable when it comes to nutrition.
One consequence of consuming food and beverages that are flavored like fruit but are actually much sweeter is that it may make real fruit less palatable. People, especially children, may develop an expectation that “fruit” should taste as sweet as soda or candy and prefer the sugar-sweetened version over the real fruit. The same is true for vegetables that are disguised as fruit juice.
It seems reasonable that since juice is made from fruit and vegetables, drinking juice must be the same as eating fruit. This isn’t always the case. Juice that is pressed is missing some of the nutrients of the fruit, most notably, fiber. A good example is apple juice. Apples contain sugar, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The fiber is in the cell membranes of the apple and the juice, containing the sugar and other nutrients, is in the cells.
When you eat an apple, you are getting all the components of the apple, including the fiber. Apples that are pressed into juice contain the sugar, but not the fiber. In this case, eating the whole fruit is better than drinking the juice.
If the juice is made from whole fruit or vegetables that are blended, it may contain the fiber, but many juicers separate out the fibrous parts of the plants. Many smoothies are made with whole fruit, so these drinks are comparable to eating fruit. Depending on how they are made, juices and smoothies containing vegetables may be a good source of nutrients and fiber.
Juice and smoothies are often used as meals or snacks to promote weight loss, but this requires some careful consumption to be effective. Many smoothies contain additional ingredients, some of which contribute nutrients as well as others that simply add sugar and calories. These extra calories can interfere with weight loss.
Additionally, drinking your fruit may lead to overconsumption that you don’t notice. It is far easier to drink juice or a smoothie than it is to eat a piece of fruit, so you are more likely to consume excess sugar and calories with juice. A single 8 oz. serving of apple juice can contain the juice of 3 or more apples. While drinking a glass of apple juice may not seem like a big deal, eating three apples would certainly get your attention!
While eating whole fruit and vegetables is recommended over drinking juice, the most important thing is to include plants in your diet. But make sure you are getting 100% real fruit and vegetables, not sweetened, flavored drinks and snacks that are essentially candy and soda!