Fruit juice: the facts
Action on Sugar has found many children’s juices contain at least six teaspoons of sugar – more than cola – and come in cartons larger than recommended.
Official advice currently says a 150ml glass of unsweetened fruit juice counts towards your five a day. The NHS states a smoothie containing all the edible pulped fruit or vegetable may count as more than one five-a-day portion, but this depends on the quantity of fruits, vegetables or juice used, as well as how the smoothie has been made.
Confused? We asked Shona Wilkinson, Head nutritionist at NutriCentre.com, to help us understand the fruit juice debate.
What is the difference between a juice and a smoothie?
A juice is produced by squeezing or grinding a fruit or vegetable to extract just the juice, and discarding the fibrous pulp. This is often done with a juicer machine. A smoothie is made by blending the whole fruit or vegetable, potentially with the exception of the seeds and the skin (depending on the fruit or vegetable used). Smoothies can also have lots of other ingredients added to them, such as ground nuts or seeds, yoghurt or milk, cocoa powder or protein powder to make them more filling or to add different flavours and textures.
What health benefits are there?
Juices and smoothies made primarily from fresh vegetables or fruit can be fantastic sources of many nutrients, including vitamin C, folic acid, and also vitamin K if you use green vegetables; as well as minerals such as potassium, iron and manganese. Juices and smoothies are also rich in antioxidants, including carotenoids and anthocyanins, which are the pigments that give them their brilliant colours. Smoothies are also a great source of fibre, to help fill us up and to encourage a healthy digestive system; and the other ingredients such as protein powder or yoghurt can add different types of nutrients that are not found in fruits and vegetables.
What are the pros and cons of each?
Because the fibre has been removed, a juice is usually a more concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants compared to a smoothie. These nutrients will also be more easily and quickly absorbed, so juices can be a great idea for those who have poor digestion. The fact that juices are absorbed so quickly also means that they can provide a rapid energy and sugar boost (natural sugars from the fruit or vegetable). This is sometimes beneficial, but it can also leave us feeling like we need another sugar boost after a short time, and can leave us feeling hungry more quickly afterwards. Smoothies, on the other hand, do contain lots of fibre. This slows down our digestion and absorption of the fruits or vegetables and the release of their natural sugars into the blood. We feel full for longer, and may be less likely to crave another energy boost soon after drinking it. Fibre is also vital for a healthy digestive system, including preventing problems such as constipation, as well as helping to control cholesterol and maintain a healthy weight. However, smoothies can be more difficult to digest if lots of fibrous vegetables are used; and they may not be as concentrated in vitamins and minerals.
Should you use fruits or vegetables?
Both fruits and vegetables can provide valuable nutrients, including all those we have already mentioned. But fruits also tend to contain much more natural sugar than vegetables do. Too much of any sugar can have negative consequences on our health, including weight gain, the health of our liver, hormone balance in both men and women, and our mood and brain health. So it is best to have juices in particular made primarily from vegetables rather than fruits (as the sugars in juices are absorbed more quickly). Ideally, include some green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale or celery; you can mix these with other types of vegetables, but avoid using too many carrots, which are also high in sugar compared to other vegetables. However, adding one or two apples or carrots to your vegetable smoothie or juice is an excellent way to give it a bit of sweetness and enhance the flavour. If you are making a fruit-based smoothie or juice, use more of the lower-sugar fruits such as berries (blueberries, raspberries etc), cherries or plums, and steer clear of too many bananas and grapes, which are high in sugar.
Can you have a juice or smoothie instead of a meal?
A smoothie in particular can be a good meal – especially breakfast, as a healthier alternative to most people’s staple breakfast of toast or cereal. To make your smoothie more of a complete meal, add some of the other ingredients we have discussed above, such as a scoop of protein powder, one to two tablespoons of raw nuts or seeds, or a small pot of plain yoghurt (the yoghurt goes best with fruit-based smoothies). Other possible ingredients can include half an avocado, a tablespoon of desiccated coconut, or a tablespoon of nut butter such as almond butter. These other ingredients will provide all-important protein and healthy fats, which are vital if you are having your smoothie as a regular meal.
A juice can also be used instead of a meal, especially by those who are looking to lose weight. Vegetable-based juices should always be chosen rather than fruit juices for this purpose, to limit the sugar content. However, if you are regularly replacing a meal with a juice, it is best to consult a qualified nutritional practitioner to make sure you are not missing out on any nutrients in your diet, as juices contain very little protein, healthy fats or fat-soluble vitamins. See also the information below on juice fasting.
Do you need to drink them straight away?
Freshly made juices and smoothies are always best drunk straight away. As soon as vitamins, antioxidants and enzymes are removed from their protective cell coatings and exposed to the air, light or heat, they can start to be depleted or change their chemical structure. So the sooner you consume your fresh juice or smoothie, the better. However, it is possible to store juices and smoothies in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 24 hours if you wish.
Are you looking to increase your five a day? NutriCentre offers a completely free nutritional-advice line for members of the public. NutriCentre’s team of fully qualified nutritionists are on hand from 9-5.30pm on 0345 2222 828 for confidential support and advice. And nutricentre.com offers a full range of complementary health products from Acai berry to Zinc!