Fruit is good for you, right? It’s packed with a ton of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to fight infections and inflammation, plus grow healthy bones, cells, and skin. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get about four servings of fruit per day, and that includes ¼ cup of fruit juice as one possible way to meet that goal. That doesn’t mean you get a free pass to drink whatever juice you please. There are healthy juice brands, and there are store-bought juices you should avoid. We’re here to show you which is which.
How healthy is fruit juice, really…and is it an acceptable substitute for an actual piece of fruit?
If you turn over your favorite brand of orange or cranberry juice to inspect the label, you might be surprised to find it’s loaded with more than vitamins and minerals—it’s probably sky-high in sugar, artificial sweeteners, and sodium, too.
“When you eat an apple, you’re eating one apple, but when you drink 12 ounces of apple juice, you’re drinking the sugar of about four to six apples,” says Barbie Boules, RDN, founder of Barbie Boules Longevity Nutrition, Inc. “Even though it’s naturally occurring, that’s way too much sugar.”
What’s more, says Boules, there’s usually little to no fiber in fruit juices to slow down the absorption of the sugar. This digestion-slowing, belly-filling macronutrient is key when it comes to minimizing spikes in blood sugar and keeping your energy levels from tanking soon after you finish sipping a glass.
“The naturally occurring sugar in a whole piece of fruit should not be compared to a bottle of juice or refined sugar,” she says. “The fiber and a symphony of other nutrients and goodies [found in fruit] can be lost in processing.”
Now you know you should always pick an apple over a bottle of apple juice when given the choice, but does that mean that all fruit juice is terrible for you? No, but you have to be cautious: because juices are often touted as a health food, it makes them dangerously misleading. Studies have shown that when people perceive food as healthier, we tend to eat—or drink—more of it.
That said, some juices are lower in sugar than others and can be a smart option (in moderation!) when you need to increase your intake of fruit. Here’s how to figure out which brands are healthy and which are only pretending to be good for you.
How to shop for healthy juice brands
The bad news is that you can’t just grab any old bottle of juice off the supermarket shelf if you want to avoid a sugar crash. Even brands that use lingo like “all natural” and “no sugar added” can have astronomical amounts of sugar per serving because of the concentration of fruit sugars found in each bottle.
The good news, though, is that you can become a pro at reading juice labels. Here’s what to look for in healthy juice brands:
- 100 percent fruit juice. You want to buy a juice that contains zero added sugars and zero ingredients except plain ol’ juice. Registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies, says to watch out for juices called “cocktails” because they may contain more than just juice, such as artificial colorings and flavors (and added sugar). “The first ingredient, which makes up the majority of the product, should be the fruit juice itself,” she says. “If an added sugar is listed in the first three ingredients, it most likely contains a large amount.”
- 12 grams or less of sugar. Okay, so no added sugar…but what about naturally occurring sugar? Boules says to aim for a juice with 12 grams or less of sugar (which is still three teaspoons, FYI). But given that the daily recommended limit for women is 25 grams, you really don’t want to be drinking half your day’s sugar in one glass of OJ.
- Added vitamins and minerals. Some healthy juice brands are fortified with extra goodies, and that’s a great way to maximize the health benefits whenever you choose to drink your fruit instead of eating it. “Try to choose a juice that offers a nutritional benefit, like providing a source of fiber to support digestive health, or being a good source of a key nutrient such as vitamin C,” says Palinski-Wade.
The 7 best healthy juice brands
Ready to hit the supermarket on the hunt for an actually good-for-you juice? These brands are dietitian-approved as a better choice.
1. Tropicana Pure Premium Vitamin C + Zinc
No matter what time of year it is, your immune system could probably use a boost. Gorin suggests drinking Tropicana’s fortified OJ, which is 100 percent orange juice with additional vitamin C and zinc. One caveat: Gorin says to cap this juice at one serving per day so you don’t overdo it on the zinc (per the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, ingesting too much zinc can cause GI distress and lower levels of good cholesterol).
2. Bolthouse Farms 100 percent Organic Carrot Juice
Opting for a juice made from vegetables, not fruit, can be a good way to quickly find a product lower in sugar than other options. Though Boules didn’t recommend any specific brand, she did say that the more vegetable-based (as opposed to all-fruit based) a juice is, the lower in sugar it’s likely to be.
The Bolthouse Farms organic carrot juice checks off a lot of dietitian-favorite boxes: the only ingredient is organic carrot juice (no added sugar, yay!) and it contains 13 grams of natural sugar per 8-ounce serving. Plus, because carrots are high in vitamin A and potassium, this juice is, too, which means it’s a good source of important nutrients.
3. Beet It
PER 8 FL OZ: 100 calories, 0 g fat, 50 mg sodium, 23 g carbs (1 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 3 g protein
If you’ve never heard of beet juice, you’re probably not an athlete: Palinski-Wade says beet juice provides your body with a source of nitrates that are converted in your body to nitric acid, quickly bringing oxygen to your muscles.
“Research has found cyclists who drank two cups of beetroot juice each day increased both their speed and endurance,” she says, “and this juice may also speed recovery after a workout.”
Beet It is 90 percent beet juice and 10 percent apple juice with no additional added sugars, so it’s a good choice for athletes wanting to improve performance…or anyone looking for healthy juice without all the unwanted extras.
4. Sunsweet Amaz!n Prune Juice
We know, we know: prune juice is for your grandparents. But have you really given it a fair shot?
“With the only ingredient being prune juice, each serving provides three grams of fiber to help support digestive health,” says Palinski-Wade, who adds that this juice also provides a source of five essential vitamins and minerals, including a good source of potassium. With stats like that, it just might be worth getting used to drinking Grandma’s favorite.
Editor’s note: Palinski-Wade is a dietary consultant for Sunsweet Growers.
5. Just Tart Cherry
Healthy ingredients? Check! This juice contains only tart cherry juice concentrate and water, with no added sugar or artificial ingredients. Palinski-Wade says adding this juice to your diet can provide multiple health benefits, since research has shown that tart cherry juice can be beneficial at reducing inflammation and fighting insomnia.
6. Sunsweet PlumSmart Light
Palinski-Wade picks this juice for carb-conscious consumers, because it contains 60 percent less calories and sugar than other leading juice cocktails, 15 grams of carbohydrates, and three grams of fiber per serving. If you want the digestive health benefits of prune juice with a slimmer nutritional profile, the light variety is your best bet.
7. POM Wonderful 100 percent Pomegranate Juice
Love pomegranates but hate all the mess of extracting the seeds? You’re in luck: drinking pomegranate juice is a legitimate alternative.
“POM Wonderful 100 percent pomegranate juice is made by pressing the entire pomegranate so that each 8-ounce bottle contains the juice from two whole-pressed pomegranates—and nothing else,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian in the New York City area.
Meanwhile, adds Gorin, the juice is packed with antioxidants, containing 700 milligrams of polyphenol antioxidants. “Antioxidants help fight free radicals that can do damage to our body’s cells—and what’s super cool is that the polyphenol antioxidants in pomegranate juice are being studied in the areas of athletic performance, memory and cognition, and gut health.”
Editor’s note: Gorin is a nutrition partner with POM Wonderful.
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The 18 worst healthy juice brands
These sugary concoctions are going to do you no favors—they’re basically just health food imposters. Don’t be fooled!
1. Welch’s 100 percent Grape Juice with Fiber
How can a sugary, but healthy, food like fruit go from being healthy to unhealthy? Easy: strip it of its benefits. Fruit may contain sugar, but it also contains water and fiber: two nutrients that help fill you up and slow down your body’s digestion of sugars so you get a slow release of energy. When you turn fruit into juice, you’re losing this digestion-slowing fiber. Welch’s tries to make up for it by adding fiber back into their juice, but the mere three grams of added fiber is no match for the 36 grams of sugar you’ll still down when you drink a whole glass.
2. & 3. Probiotic Juices
Naked Boosted Probiotic Machine Tropical Mango
Tropicana Probiotics Pineapple Mango
By now you’ve probably heard of the belly-healing bacteria called probiotics; Despite their popularity, did you know they’re not exclusive to the Greek yogurt aisle anymore? Lab-grown strains of probiotics are being added to foods that don’t naturally have them, like these juices. And, frankly, it’s a bit ironic. Emerging research finds that diets rich in sugary products are associated with a high ratio of bad bacteria to good bacteria in the gut. Experts believe the problem stems from sugar being the primary source of fuel for the fungi that can destroy beneficial probiotics. Translation: probiotic-infused sugary drinks are about as counterproductive as drinking an espresso before going to sleep. If you want some probiotics, we’d recommend making your own smoothie at home with yogurt.
4. Simply Orange High Pulp
Sorry, but the “High Pulp” option for orange juices doesn’t equate to a higher fiber count. There are still zero grams of the digestion-slowing, energy-stabilizing macronutrient in a glass of this OJ. If you still want the taste of orange juice without the sugar crash, either slice up an orange and throw some into your water.
5. Naked Pure Fruit Pomegranate Blueberry
This juice might be naturally sweetened, but just because it’s made with real fruit doesn’t justify gulping down a staggering 61 grams of sugar in a bottle. And yes, although we would typically give nutritional information for an 8-ounce serving, we made an exception for bottled drinks like Naked’s, whose packaging is unmistakably intended to be drunk by a single person at one time. Until the new nutrition label comes out in 2018 that instructs manufacturers to list nutritionals for the entire bottle rather than a cup, be on the lookout for food and beverages with sneaky serving sizes.
“Naked, Evolution and Odwalla are notorious for being calorie and sugar dense,” says Boules. “Choose their juices over the smoothies, as the smoothie blends average 275 calories and 50 plus grams of carbs and sugar, with no fiber.”
6. Langers Mango Nectar
Don’t fall prey to health halo labels like “100 percent Vitamin C,” “GMO Free,” and “No High Fructose Corn Syrup.” This offering from Langers is mostly filtered water with some mango puree, citric acid, natural flavor, and lots and lots of sugar. And always be wary of juice “cocktails,” which is code for “loaded with sugar.”
“This ‘juice’ is very misleading since the actual fruit is the third ingredient on this list, after water and added sugar,” says Palinski-Wade. “With 21 grams of added sugar per serving, this juice cocktail is best avoided.”
7. Odwalla Strawberry C Monster
Homemade smoothies are an effective way to get in a blast of nutrients in an easy-to-digest snack, but the store-bought version is a whole other beast. This bottled smoothie is overflowing with sugar (in fact, it has 12 donuts worth of the sweet stuff), and it’s not justified just because these sugars are naturally-occurring. When fruit juice concentrates are added to sweeten products, it’s just as bad as adding high fructose syrup as these natural sugars are lacking in fruit’s waist-whittling partner in crime: fiber.
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“The first issue I have with these ‘single-serving’ juices is the portion size,” says Palinski-Wade, who points out that one bottle contains 15.2 ounces of juice when one serving should only be four ounces. “This large volume means you are taking in more sugar per serving than soda, and with just one gram of fiber per bottle, this product won’t fill you up.”
8. Naked Cold-Pressed Cool Pineapple
Cold-pressed juices are supposed to preserve more micronutrients than juices that have been pasteurized—a high-temperature process that destroys temperature-sensitive nutrients—but that doesn’t mean this juice should be your go-to breakfast, or what Naked tries to sell as “the coolest thing to hit mornings since the snooze button.” The only thing being “hit” by this drink? Your energy levels—as they hit the floor—minutes after you’ve sipped through all 12 ounces of this drink because it’s made of 30 grams of sugar, with no digestive-slowing healthy fats, fiber, or protein.
9. Ocean Spray PACt Cranberry
This pick is far from the healthiest store bought juice. Because cranberries are the lowest sugar fruit, they have a “distinctly tart, astringent, and even unpalatable taste” without the addition of sugar, according to a letter the Ocean Spray company wrote to the FDA in an outcry over the newly mandated line for “added sugars” on nutrition labels. Although Ocean Spray got around that issue by not adding any sugar to this beverage, they overdid it on the zero-calorie sweetener front: PACt Cranberry has a whopping 12 grams of sugar alcohol erythritol. When consumed in excess (which can be likely when you think a food is “healthier” for you since it doesn’t have sugar), this sugar alcohol effectively acts as a laxative and can cause stomach pain, excessive internal gas, and flatulence in sensitive individuals.
“I’m not a fan of recommending products that contain sugar alcohols for frequent consumption,” says Gorin. “This flavored water contains erythritol, which is a sugar alcohol that can cause gastrointestinal irritation. If you’re looking for flavored water, I’d rather you add a splash of 100 percent cranberry juice to a glass of sparkling water.”
10. & 11. Antioxidant Juices
Smart Juice Organic Antioxidant Force
Welch’s 100 percent Juice Antioxidant Superberry
You probably have heard antioxidants are good for you, but that doesn’t mean drinking them in juice form is the preferable method of ingestion. Antioxidants are compounds that rid your body of free radicals: nefarious compounds that cause inflammation and lead to a host of diseases such as obesity and Alzheimer’s. You may be getting an antioxidant boost in this drink, but you’re getting a staggering amount of sugar and little else. Eat some real blueberries instead. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that eating (not drinking) berries daily could significantly reduce inflammation.
12. R.W. Knudsen Just Pomegranate
Upon closer inspection of the label, you see that “Just Pomegranate” really means 100 percent premium pomegranate juice… from concentrate, mixed with water. And that means R.W. Knudsen could have added more water to dilute this sugary beverage, but they didn’t. POM Wonderful does a better job by diluting their pomegranate juice to only 32 grams of sugar. When it comes down to it, however, you should still add more water to your pomegranate juice at home.
13. Evolution Fresh Cold-Pressed, High-Pressure-Processed Orange Juice
This morning mainstay might be bright and refreshing, but it’s loaded with sugar and relatively low in nutritive values besides vitamin C. Don’t let their health-halo marketing skew your keen eyes away from the label. A single serving has 26 grams of sugar—and a single serving is only half the bottle. Although these grams may only be from fruit sugars and not added, regardless of source, sugars act the same way in your body. So guzzling down 49 grams of the sweet stuff in a single sitting can do some serious damage to your blood sugar levels if you don’t pair it with foods high in fiber, protein, or healthy fats.
14. Ocean Spray 100 percent Juice No Sugar Added Cranberry
At first glance, Ocean Spray’s “No Sugar Added,” “100 percent Juice” cranberry juice looks like a good choice, but there’s a hidden danger in this refined-sugar-free beverage; Ocean Spray sweetens their juice with fruit juice concentrates grape juice, apple juice, and pear juice. We’re all for cutting out refined sugar, but fruit juice concentrates rank even worse than refined sugar on our list of every added sweetener—ranked!
That’s because fruit contains more of the fruit sugar fructose than table sugar does. (Although cane sugar is 50 percent fructose, apples can be 71 percent fructose, pears are 61 percent fructose, and grapes are 54 percent fructose.) Why all the negative press about fruit sugar? Because fructose isn’t used by our body as energy, this sugar get converted into fat and inflammatory compounds more easily than glucose does. Plus, a growing body of research connects high doses of fructose with the root of a host of metabolic diseases such as insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and belly fat accumulation.
15. V8 V-Fusion Light Strawberry Banana
By “Light,” V8 means they watered down their regular V-Fusion Strawberry Banana drink. (The first ingredient—the most prominent—in this beverage is water.) V8 attempts to get the same level of sweetness with the addition of artificial sweetener sucralose. Unfortunately for you, research has linked high-intensity sweeteners like sucralose to recalibrating your brain’s interpretation of sweetness. This can cause you to overconsume regular sugar-sweetened foods.
16. Odwalla Berries Gomega
The point of Odwalla’s “Gomega” drink is that you get 1,500 mg of anti-inflammatory omega-3, ALA fatty acids from the addition of ground flax seeds. Unfortunately, that only results in 2 grams of fiber and an absurdly high 47 grams of sugar in a bottle.
17. Martinelli’s Gold Medal Organic Apple Juice
Just because it’s “organic” doesn’t automatically mean it’s good for you. Yes, we’d recommend organic apple drinks over conventional as apples are notorious for their high levels of inflammatory pesticide contamination, but that doesn’t make all organic apple products safe for your belly. Martinelli’s offering is one of the highest sugar apple juices on the market.
18. Tropicana Farmstand Tropical Green
Devoid of fiber and full of sugar, Tropicana’s new Farmstand beverage isn’t any better than your average juice. And even if it has two “servings of fruit and vegetables in every glass,” you’re still missing one of the key benefits veggies offer: fiber!
Sarah Bradley and Olivia Tarantino contributed to this article.
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