All fruit juices are not equal

April 27, 2005|BY LYNN LITTLE

Whether you drink it with your breakfast, as an afternoon refresher or any time of day, fruit juice seems to hit the spot. However, just because a beverage has fruit flavor does not mean it is nutritious. Fruit juices and fruit-flavored beverages vary greatly in nutritional value.

Learning to tell the difference between real fruit juice and fruit drinks, and how to assess their nutrient content, is relatively simple if you read the label on the bottle or carton. Federal food labeling laws require that beverages that contain fruit juice or have pictures of fruit on their label declare the percentage of juice present on the nutrition facts information panel.

Here are some important terms to remember when looking at a fruit juice or beverage label:

  • 100-percent fruit juice. These products contain 100-percent fruit juice from a single fruit or a blend of fruit juices. One hundred percent fruit juice doesn't provide the fiber found in whole fruits and vegetables, although the juice does retain most of the nutrients contained in the whole counterparts.

  • Fruit drink, beverage or cocktail. The product contains less than 100-percent juice. Be sure to read the label carefully, because some products are only 5 percent or 10 percent juice.

  • Fresh. The product has not been processed, including freezing or pasteurization.

  • Pasteurized. Like milk, many juices are heat treated to help them last longer and to kill any bacteria that might be present. Nutrients and flavor usually are not affected by this process. All fruit juice products that are shelf stable or frozen have been pasteurized. For safety reasons, it's best to choose pasteurized juices, especially for consumers at high risk for complications from food-borne illness, including pregnant women, small children, elderly people and those with compromised immune systems.

  • Fortified. Nutrients that were not present originally have been added to the juice. For example, calcium-fortified orange juice is now commonly sold as a way to help consumers meet their daily calcium needs. Be certain to read the nutrition facts label on these juices to make certain you are getting more than just fortified sugar water.

It is important to note that among juices containing 100-percent juice, the amount and type of nutrients provided differs. Orange and other citrus juices are good sources of vitamin C, potassium and folic acid, whereas cranberry juice mostly provides vitamin C. Unfortified grape, apple and pear juices rate fairly low in nutritional value. Thus, juice blends that list grape, apple or pear juice as their first ingredient will have a lower vitamin content than blends that list citrus juices first on the label.


Also keep in mind that although some fruit drinks might supply 100 percent of the daily value for certain nutrients like vitamin C, they also might be loaded with added sugars. Depending on the amount of sugars added, there might be a significant difference between the number of calories per serving in a fruit drink and the calories in 100-percent fruit juice.

Check the sell-by date. Juice past its expiration date will have lost more nutrients than fresher juice and be likely to have spoiled. Keep opened and prepared juice refrigerated, preferably in a tightly closed container. This slows the growth of micro-organisms, helps protect the flavor and minimizes the loss of vitamin C due to oxidation.

Don't use juice as a substitute for milk or water, especially with young children. Children who drink juice all day often lack the appetite they need for other important foods.

An icy cold class of fruit juice makes a great low-fat, caffeine-free energy booster. A six-ounce serving counts for one of the five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables recommended daily.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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