Do we juice the goodness out of fruit?
Dublin - Having a glass of OJ or any kind of juice in the morning has long been a breakfast tradition. For many people, their juice at breakfast is equally as important as their cup of tea or coffee.
The availability and commercial sale of juices has risen considerably over the past 20 years, and in recent times, juice and smoothie bars have become commonplace in shopping centres and on city streets.
Whole fruit can be difficult to store, transport and keep fresh, which can make it expensive off the shelf. Seasonality is another major issue, so depending on the time of year, certain fruit and vegetables can be difficult to find.
Processing fruit or vegetables into a juice overcomes these barriers. Juices are relatively cheap to make, store and distribute, making them much more sellable (and profitable).
Ultimately, juices are another convenience food that exploit people’s lack of time to buy and consume fresh fruit or vegetables – and, well, they taste great too.
For the consumer, they are convenient for people to store in large quantities without the need to repeatedly buy or make them.
Their development and promotion by food companies, with to clever marketing, has led to a perception that juices are a “healthy” drink that should be part of your daily diet, and may even give you one or more of your “five a day”. Is this the whole truth? Are they as healthy as companies would lead us to believe?
A JUICE OFF THE SHELF?
The nutritional value of a typical juice off the shelf varies hugely due to the large variety of ways juices are processed.
There are juices that are made from simply pressing fresh fruit and, at the other end of the spectrum, there are juices made from concentrate with added colourings, preservatives, sweeteners and flavour enhancers.
Commercial processing removes the pulp and filters the product to remove the flesh and fibre, just leaving the juice of the fruit behind.
A juice that is made from concentrate means that the fruit is squeezed and the water is extracted, leaving a gel-like substance. Later the water is added back in, and the juice is pasteurised and packaged in bottles or cartons and sold on to be distributed in shops, for example.
Unfortunately, many commercial juices can contain as much or even more sugar than a typical soft drink. If you are buying juice off the shelf, it is important to examine the label.
Often juices are marketed with a “no added sugar” claim, which may lead you to believe that drinking copious amounts is okay.
However, without even adding sugar, most juices will contain large amounts of sugar (as much as 10g to every 100ml), although these are naturally occurring sugars like fructose, which is known as the fruit sugar.
You would do well to steer clear of any fruit-flavoured or themed soft drink that is marketed as a juice-based drink.
By contrast, fruits eaten whole are high in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which makes them an essential part of a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. Once fibre is removed from fruit (or vegetables), it drastically alters how that foodstuff is digested and metabolised by the body.
The result is that when we consume a juice high in naturally occurring sugars, our body treats it as a simple sugar (which fructose is, by definition, as a single sugar molecule).
Whole fruit with high-fibre content is digested more slowly than a juice as it takes longer to pass through the digestive system, resulting in a slower rise in blood-sugar levels.
For this reason, juices should be consumed only when from fresh sources, and ideally while containing their pulp.
Even then, that should be only in moderate amounts.
CAN FRESHLY MADE JUICE BE A PART OF A HEALTHY DIET?
Ideally, you should be getting the nutrition your body needs from whole pieces of fruit and vegetables rather than squeezing the juice out and discarding the pulp. That way you are getting all the fibre and goodness and having something that will provide a sustained amount of energy to your body.
However, if you or your children find it difficult to consume large amounts of fresh fruits or vegetables, or are particularly fussy about those foods, then juicing or making smoothies can be an alternative.
Bearing in mind what I have said about the value of fibre and pulp, it should be obvious that a smoothie is a better option than a juice in most cases.
The same caveats remain, though, about off-the-shelf smoothies and the variety of added sugars and flavours that can be present.
My philosophy is that preparing as much of your own food as possible ensures that you are in control of what you put into your body.
With juices, there are certainly healthy options that you can prepare yourself, or buy freshly made at a juice bar. The key consideration is the ingredients that are used.
Personally, I prefer to blend or juice vegetables as the major constituent, and then add a small amount of fruit for sweetness. Vegetable juices tend to have a little more fibre and lower sugar content. Such juices are vastly different from a processed juice with added sugars, sweeteners and preservatives.
Should you juice? You don’t have to, but you can if you chose the right type, drink in moderate amounts, and certainly not by the litre or as a replacement for water. – Irish Independent
* Daniel Davey is a performance nutritionist
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