Frankly, it seems almost criminal that for years that the USDA’s various food guides—the wheels, pyramids and plates—have been misleading about fruit juice. Well, truthfully, they’ve been misleading us about lots of things, but lately, with the spike in diabetes and subsequent condemnation of some of my favorite fruits, well, enough is enough. It’s time to set the record straight.

But, what exactly is the record, you ask? Well, the USDA Choose My Plate picture suggests that fruits make up around twenty percent of each healthy plate, and these fruits can come in the form of 100 percent fruit juice or varied modes of processing from canned to frozen to fresh, dried, cut up or pureed. But, this is a bit off.

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Further study into the website does stress fresh fruit over any other choice, whole fruit over juice, and canned fruit in water rather than syrup. For most of us, the daily recommendation is one-and-a-half to two cups of fruit a day, with variations regarding weight, exercise, age and gender. And, while all this information being available is admirable, probably even mostly well-intentioned (if not slightly lobbied,) some would say it’s not sufficient, that the information doesn’t fill in all the important gaps.

There is, in fact, a massive difference between an orange and a cup of orange juice, an apple and apple juice, and most certainly between a banana, kiwi, and pineapple versus a tropical fruit cocktail. And, our bodies can tell. Let’s find out why.

What is juice?

Sunshine-Smoothie

First of all, when purchasing juice, the USDA cites that it is very important to go with 100 percent fruit juice, and nowadays, it’s fairly common knowledge as to why: Companies have long been pulling off clever health heists by marketing juices that, while they do contain elements of actual fruit, are packed with sugars, additives and crap. So, wisely, we want to steer clear of that.

The problem is that 100 percent fruit juice, the better option, is far from the best choice. By law, when companies claim 100 percent fruit juice, everything in the bottle must be from a fruit. True, this is a step up from high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring, but it’s also a bit misleading.

  1. 100 percent fruit juice doesn’t guarantee that it is just the fruit that we think we’ve bought. Many companies dilute more expensive fruit juices with more affordable, sweeter options like apple or pear.
  2. During the processing — it is definitely a processed food — of 100 percent juice, like say “100 percent orange juice, not from concentrate,” companies must take oxygen out of the juice in order to maintain its shelf-life and in turn, they must use “flavor packs,” things like orange aroma and orange oil, to add back orangeness—to 100 percent orange juice!
  3. And, it’s pasteurized — heated up to kill the bacteria — for our safety, which kills many of the nutrients we are drinking the orange juice for. These safety measures are not necessarily healthier measures.

In other words, what 100 percent juice is isn’t exactly a cut and clear serving of fruit. Other things happen. Even so, the most important difference to note is that 100 percent fruit juice is not 100 percent actual fruit.

What is Actual Fruit?

Here’s where things get really simple. Fruit is much, much more than it’s juice, and truthfully, it’s usually the parts that aren’t juice — basically sugar water — that hold the bulk of what is healthy. It’s common sense: When we squeeze the juice out of an orange, we aren’t eating all that fiber, food, membrane and pulp we would get from eating the orange. Rather, we get the sugars and a much smaller portion of the health benefits.

The same can be said for apples, pears, grapes and all of it. The juice contains most of the sugar, such that the same amount of fruit versus juice has a notable difference in sugar content. The skins, fibers and flesh of the fruit contain most of the nutrients, such that the same amount of juice versus fruit has notably less vitamins and minerals, i.e. health benefits.

And, that is a majorly important reality to reach, for us personally and for the public at large. Fruit juice is not serving of fruit. It just isn’t. It has been taken too far away from what it actually is, the enticing characteristics — sweetness — exalted while the healthier aspects are tossed away.

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What’s a Juice Lover to Do?

Carrot-Juice

Now, for some of us, those of us who love to have juice with breakfast, this can be a pretty dogged blow. Who wants to give up juice? After all this time of it being on the good list, it seems horrible to toss it aside like a dirty old banana peel or watermelon rind. So, is there anyway to keep juice on the menu?

Well, there are certainly better ways of doing it than buying it by the carton or box, and as is usually, this involves making freshly squeezed juice yourself. What’s more, it involves using the whole fruit as opposed to squeezing it, which creates a much thicker drink, something more like a smoothie than outright juice, but it’ll mean that all those things, the good stuff, are in there. And, somewhere along the line, that was the point.

Lead Image Source: Lindsey Turner/Flickr

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