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Fruit and Vegetable Juice Drinks: Are They Nutritious?

You've probably seen them occupying increasingly more shelf space at your local supermarket as they become more popular. I'm referring to fruit and vegetable juices that tout a lengthy list of health benefits, claiming to do everything from boost energy to prevent cancer. But the real question is, are they nutritionally sound? Some of these juices seem to have superpowers. They count toward your 5-9 daily fruit and vegetable servings, and some are now enhanced with green tea and antioxidants. Therefore, that means it's acceptable to skip whole fruits and vegetables and just drink your way to health, right? Not exactly.  
   
The juice you're drinking may be just a glassful of sugar, cleverly disguised as something healthy. V8 Splash® says right on the bottle that it only contains 10% juice, and it lists high-fructose corn syrup as an ingredient, second only behind water. Also, V8® vegetable juice is chock-full of sodium and has "natural flavoring" added, which is not really natural at all. Some juices contain added vitamins, including vitamins C, E, B2, B3, B6, B12, and beta-carotene (which don't have to be added to whole fruits and vegetables because many are naturally rich in these nutrients). Other juices add caffeine or even oil to their products.

Many people consume juices for their supposed health benefits or to try to reach their recommended 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables daily because the majority of adults fall short on the number of servings they actually get. Choosing a mostly plant-based diet has been shown to ward off many diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.  However, drinking fruit or vegetable juice is not the same as eating whole fruits and vegetables because you're missing out on a key nutrient:  fiber. The American Dietetic Association recommends getting 25-38 grams of fiber per day, and most fruit and vegetable juices provide none. Consuming juice in place of whole fruits and vegetables could mean you are falling short on that 25-38 grams of fiber recommended daily for optimum health. For example, a cup of raw carrots has over 4 grams of fiber, but carrot juice provides little to no fiber.  In addition to helping prevent disease, adequate fiber can also help with your weight-management goals.  Fiber increases satiety by slowing digestion, which keeps you full longer between meals and snacks.

Fruit and vegetable juices do contain carbohydrates, which contribute calories and could cause weight gain if adding them to your diet causes you take in more calories than you burn in a day. Just be careful not to overdo it - aim to supplement your diet with fruit and vegetable juices rather than using them to replace whole fruits and vegetables.  Juices should not be used as meal replacements, but rather as "once in a while" additions to an already healthy diet.
   
Although eating whole fruits and vegetables gets you the most bang for your buck, sometimes the hustle and bustle of life calls for convenience. So if you occasionally drink fruit or vegetable juices, opt for a low sodium version of vegetable juice, or pick a fruit juice that is made from 100% juice, does not have added sugars, and is low enough in calories that it won't increase your waistline. 

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.

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