Reality check: Are fruit and vegetable juices a...
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Oct 14, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Reality check: Are fruit and vegetable juices a healthy alternative to the real thing?

Food companies have noticed that not all of us are down with pureeing parsnips, and they are stacking grocery store shelves with convenient, all-in-one fruit and vegetable products.


Some of us wander produce sections and farmer’s markets, dreaming of the soups and salads, stews and scrumptious side dishes we will make with our heaping basket of vegetables.

Others buy a bunch of carrots with good intentions and watch it wither at the back of the refrigerator.

Still others refuse to let a fresh vegetable enter their homes. These longtime vegetable haters and/or round-the-clock workers, too time-crunched to cook, rely on cereal, takeout noodles and easy-to-eat bananas for nourishment.

Food companies have noticed that not all of us are down with pureeing parsnips, and they are stacking grocery store shelves with convenient, all-in-one fruit and vegetable products.

Many are juices. There are also smoothie kits in the freezer section and sauces near the canned fruit.

But are these products a sound substitute — healthwise — for your mother’s hearty vegetable stew?

Terry Poulton is desperate to know. The 69-year-old Torontonian lives alone and, as she has for much of her life, has little interest in turning on a stove.

“I couldn’t get through a head of lettuce or bunch of carrots if I tried,” she says. “I really don’t like to cook. There’s no motivation when you’re by yourself.”

Poulton, a memoir coach and retired journalist who says she is health-conscious, often turns to shelf-stable fruit+vegetable juices to ensure she gets at least one or two veggies each day. She also enjoys fruit purees spiked with vegetables.

“I mix these in with oatmeal or granola for breakfast,” she says. “They are a shortcut for me to get some vegetables. I hope my strategy is working.”

Registered dietitian Stephanie De Maio says these fruit+veg products are not a precise replacement for the suite of good things found in whole fruits and vegetables.

But, she adds: “If you are not having any fruits and vegetables right now, these products can’t hurt. At least you’re going from zero to something.”

De Maio, a clinical dietitian at St. Michael’s Hospital, says her primary concern is that people consume too many calories when drinking their fruits and veggies. She points out that some popular fruit+veg juices have 140 calories per 1-cup serving — the calorie-equivalent of three apples.

“Few of us would eat three or four fruits in one sitting,” she says, adding that many of us are likely to drink more than 250 mL at once, given how easy it is to gulp a sweet-tasting juice.

Registered dietitian Danielle Battram agrees that regularly replacing fruits and veggies with juice — even ones blended with carrots and kale — likely means you are consuming more calories than you need.

And, she says, calories consumed in liquid form often don’t change how we eat the rest of the day, meaning: “most things we drink are just extra calories on top of what we eat.” Milk, she adds, can be an exception.

Swapping fruits and vegetables for processed products, whether juice or purees, means people aren’t reaping the benefits of dietary fibre found in whole oranges, apples and carrots, Battram says.

“When you eat them whole, your gut has to work hard, and giving your gut a workout is a good thing.”

“Your gut is a muscle, and if you don’t use it, you lose it. Eating fibre-rich foods keeps your gut toned. You don’t want to be on a liquid diet unless you have to be.”

Battram, an associate professor in the department of food and nutritional sciences at Brescia University College, says juice passes through the digestive system faster than whole vegetables and fruit, which means naturally occurring sugars are quickly absorbed in the blood stream, affecting blood sugar levels.

The indigestible fibre in whole fruits and vegetables also triggers regular bowel movements.

Processing fruits and vegetables, whether in making a fruit concentrate or in pasteurization, also removes beneficial phytochemicals found in the nature, Battram says.

“We can’t replicate those in a product,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many are destroyed (during processing) — scientists haven’t yet identified them all — but it’s likely you are missing out on those as well when you reach for these products.”

Both De Maio and Battram say that fruit+veg products can serve a nutritional purpose for those who can’t — or choose not to — eat fruits and vegetables in their natural state. The sauces are a better choice than the juice, they say, because they have fewer calories per serving and at least one gram of fibre.

But if you are already eating several servings of fruits and veggies a day — Health Canada recommends adults consume between seven and 10 servings a day — then there is no need to regularly include these processed drinks and sauces in your diet.

Poulton, who worried these products are “a waste of calories and money,” will continue with her daily dose of fruit+veg sauce and save the juice for a treat.

“It’s my plan B,” she says. “It’s better than just ignoring fruits and vegetables.”

The skinny

Nutrition experts say it’s best to eat whole fruits and vegetables to reap the full benefits of these nutritional powerhouses.

But if that’s not possible — perhaps you’re travelling, or too busy or disinclined to cook — registered dietitian Danielle Battram suggests choosing a fruit-and-veg sauce over a similarly branded juice.

“It’s closer to food,” she says.

Motts Fruitsations + Veggies comes in two unsweetened flavours. One snack-size container (111 grams) of peach apple carrot sauce has 60 calories, 12 grams of sugar and one gram of fibre. It’s marketed as being one of your daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

We asked Battram and registered dietitian Stephanie De Maio to review and rank four brands of fruit+veg juice.

Both (independently) put SunRype Fruit Plus Veggies & Fibre (Strawberry Banana flavour) at the top of their lists because a 250 mL serving has 120 calories, a low sodium count and 2 grams of fibre.

Both put Arthur’s Smoothies Fruit + Veg (Carrot Energizer flavour) lower on their lists because a 250 mL serving has 140 calories and 1 gram of fibre.

Both said V8 V-Fusion (Pomegranate Blueberry flavour) was at the bottom of their lists because it has 110 calories per 250 mL serving and no fibre.

Toronto Star

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