Thursday, July 20, 2006

High-power nutritional aspects of juice and which are best suited for activities.

The message is out: Eat more fruits and vegetables to help fight disease and maintain optimum health. With slogans like "Strive for Five' and "Five a Day," Americans are getting the message to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

For fruits, the Food Guide Pyramid recommends we eat at least 2-3 servings per day, with a serving counting as one whole piece of raw fruit, 3/4 cup of juice, 1/4 cup of dried or 1/2 cup of canned fruit. Nutritionally speaking, fruits are a nearly perfect food-they're loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals, while low in calories, extremely low in fat and cholesterol-free.

Supplementing your intake of whole fruits and vegetables with juices is an ideal way to quench your thirst while providing your body with valuable nutrients. Though not quite as nutritious as the whole, fresh fruit (processing and storage may lessen the vitamin content slightly and eliminates much of the fiber found in the whole fruit), juices are still an excellent choice over beverages like soft drinks and coffee, both of which are devoid of beneficial nutrients.

The Counterfeits

When purchasing juices, remember to pay attention to the percentage of actual juice contained in the product. Under the new labeling law, all beverages claiming to contain juice must clearly state the total percentage on the information panel. Products labeled "drink," "beverage," "cooler," or "punch" will often contain water, corn syrup and flavorings, with very little actual juice and little more nutrition than a can of soda. Exotic "blends" such "Raspberry Peach Juice Blend" may contain a single raspberry and sliver of peach mixed with less expensive apple, pear or white grape juice. You're still getting a 100% juice product but maybe not the quality of juice you were expecting.

Choice Explosion

Canned, boxed, bottled, frozen, reconstituted or refrigerated, juices can be conveniently stored for ready availability. It's estimated that Americans are drinking twice as much juice as they did 40 years ago.

Besides choices in packaging and processing, consumers now have a huge variety of mixtures from which to choose. Not only are traditional grape, orange and apple juices available, dozens of juice-blend selections are crowding the store shelves. Some are fairly straight-forward blends (like cranberry-apple juice), while others are more exotic (pineapple-banana-strawberry-kiwi juice).

You can also choose juices that are now fortified with extra vitamins and minerals. For people who need to increase their calcium intake, an eight-oz. glass of fortified orange juice can easily provide 30% of their Reference Daily Intake for that mineral; an extra 280 mg more than you'll get from a regular glass of orange juice and as much calcium as you'll get in a glass of milk. But don't waste your money on juice "drinks" that are fortified with vitamins A and D but contain only a minuscule percent of juice in a concoction of sugar and artificially colored water.

Not All Created Equal

Although most juices are a good source of several vitamins, like C, A and folate, and minerals like potassium, some choices are far better than others.

Referring to the juice table (opposite) which gives a nutrient profile for twelve of the most common, available fruit juices, you can pick the best of the crop when it comes to meeting your particular needs.

The calories in juice are predominantly from naturally occurring fruit sugar, with fat and protein contributing an insignificant number of calories. In fact, the sugar content, and thus calories, of juices is similar to soft drinks. However, unlike fruit juices, soft drinks provide no beneficial vitamins, minerals or phytochemicals.

As mentioned earlier, primarily fiber is lost from processing fruit into juice. On our list, prune juice is the highest in fiber, although it's loaded with calories (181 for an eight oz. serving). If you're concerned about calories, tomato, apricot nectar and vegetable juice don't come in too far behind prune juice as good sources of dietary fiber.

The biggest disappointment among juices is apple, followed by grape and pear juices. Apple juice provides insignificant amounts of vitamin C and beta carotene, barely any fiber and a tiny amount of iron. Unfortunately, apple juice is very popular, especially among the pre-school set. Parents frequently select apple juice for their children because of its mild taste and inexpensive cost, and kids like apple juice because of its high sugar content. (Remember the comparison to soft drinks?) If you're looking for more nutrition in your juice, just about every other choice will be better than apple. Blends that mainly contain apple, pear or grape may also be short on nutrition.

For vitamin C, the richest sources are the citrus juices, including orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime. Orange juice, the most frequently consumed citrus juice, provides 97 mg, or 162% of the RDI for vitamin C for an eight oz. glass. Other juices that exceed 100% of the vitamin C in one glass are cranberry, vegetable and grapefruit.

Though beta carotene, or vitamin A, can be found in plentiful quantities in some juices, these are generally not as popular with consumers. For example, carrot juice is more of a specialty juice found in some stores and may be quite expensive when compared to orange juice. However, carrot juice, to no one's surprise, is loaded with beta carotene-one eight oz. glass provides 12 times the RDI for the nutrient!

But if you're interested in boosting the beta carotene level of your diet, tomato and vegetable juices are easily found and fairly reasonably priced. They also contain significant amounts of vitamins A and C in addition to contributing fiber and some iron. One word of advice: These juices may be very high in salt content so look for the reduced sodium or salt-free varieties. Also, these two juices, for the calorie-conscious, are good bets because they have the lowest number of calories per glass compared to all the other juices.

No comments: