Q&A: Fruit Juices


Juice-200x300.jpgHere’s an interesting question from a reader who must have read my post, “Q&A: What Do I Drink?

Q: Hi!  I am new to the Paleo diet.  My CrossFit gym just finished a 30 day challenge (I lost 9 pounds and 3% body fat during the month of April – whoa!), and I was wondering why you suggest only drinking fruit juice that you have made at home?  If it’s 100% juice, it’s still not ok?  Is there a certain brand that is better than others? (ie Naked Juice)

A: The reason the Paleo diet doesn’t really allow for fruit juices is because they are usually loaded with extra, added sugars and other weird ingredients like preservatives, colorings and synthetic flavorings.  As we all know, the extra sugars wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels, creating blood sugar crashes and spikes, as well as the inner tube on your mid section.

Beyond that, though, when you juice something, unless you drink it very soon after juicing it, you lose a LOT of the nutrients.  Oxygen damages the juice if it sits out for too long, just like a sliced apple turns brown if it sits out.  Think of packaged juices (and home made juice that sits out for too long) like you think of brown apples.  Ew.

I’m honestly not a big fan of juice at all.  I suggested people drink freshly juiced juice on that post because I know that people have an obsession with overly sweet beverages, and it’s a better alternative than soda (sometimes).  I don’t think you need juice, unless you’re absolutely trying to gain weight on the Paleo diet or something.  If you must have juice, here’s why I think you should make it yourself at home:

1) Because we often have compromised digestive systems from eating crappy foods our whole lives, the juice is easier to digest, so it’s easier on our whole bodies.

2) The juice we make at home can be from local, organic, unadulterated fruits and vegetables that don’t have any weird chemicals or extra sugars added to them. Even when store bought juices don’t have added sugar, they’re still loaded with it.  For instance, your 16 ounce Acai Naked juice (no sugar added) has about 48 grams of sugar in one bottle.  That’s more than a 12 oz can of Coke (39 grams).  Even the “veggie” Naked juice has 36 grams.  (By the way, that 16 ounce Acai Machine Naked drink contains 320 calories if you drink the whole thing.)

3) Fresh, homemade juice is full of nutrients and enzymes that packaged juices just don’t contain. That’s why they have to ADD vitamins and other nutrients to the juices (check out your Naked juice label here for proof).  Manufacturers are required to pasteurize (heat) juices, including Naked and other similar brands.  That means you lose a lot of the beneficial enzymatic properties of the juice, and many of the other vitamins are diminished, as well.  So besides the fact that the juice is definitely NOT fresh, it’s also blasted with heat, not to mention irradiated a lot of the time if it’s not organic.

4) Unless you have a very large refrigerator in which to store all of that produce, a high tolerance for laborious clean-up, and a LOT of money, the amount of juice you make at home sort of regulates itself. You’re probably not going to be making a 16 oz glass of fresh fruit juice every day at home because it would cost you like $15 a day if you did.  The reason you can buy a Naked juice for $3 is that the first ingredient in a lot of their juices is apple juice concentrate.  Conventional apples, by the way are one of the 12 most highly chemically sprayed fruits out there.

5) You don’t often find vegetable juice in stores (besides V8, but that doesn’t really count because it’s pasteurized, not organic, and full of iodized salt).  But you can sure juice your own vegetables at home.  Veggies are way lower in sugar than fruits, and chock full of nutrients. Which brings me to the down sides of juicing even at home.

Here’s What’s Bad About Any Juice
Even though freshly juiced juice has all the benefits of the nutrients and enzymes that we just discussed, fruit juice is a really high glycemic substance.  That means it can cause a sharp blood sugar spike (which is why you see type 1 diabetics in movies desperately needing a glass of, yes, fruit juice when they have a sugar crash).  It can have terrible effects on type 2 diabetics, people trying to lose weight, kids (and adults) with behavioral issues, and people who are just trying to get through their day without getting on a blood sugar roller coaster.

When you juice a fruit and remove all of the pith, you’re also removing the fiber and starches, which act as a buffer to your blood sugar levels from all that sugar. The fiber also makes you feel full, unlike a glass of fruit juice, which just makes you feel like flying.  That’s why you can stuff 5 blackberries, 4 raspberries, 4 strawberries, 3 1/2 apples and 1/2 banana into the 16 oz Naked Berry Blast and not feel satiated.  If I ate 3 1/2 whole apples I would explode – I don’t know about you…

When you juice vegetables, you’re still not getting that beneficial fiber, but vegetable juice has way less of an effect on your blood sugar and insulin levels than fruit juice, except for beets and carrots, which act similarly to fruits.

Eat Fruit Instead
Sooo, if you’re in the mood for juice, first consider eating a piece of fruit.  If you still want the juice and all you have access to is store-bought, pasteurized juice, at least make it organic.  And even then, water it down.

If you can make your own juice at home, first consider, instead, eating that expensive fruit (unless your digestion just can’t handle it).  If you still want the juice, make sure you put some vegetables in your juicer along with the fruit to decrease the glycemic response.  Celery, spinach, and even kale are surprisingly sweet when you juice them.

The Worst and the Best Brands
To answer your question about whether or not there are brands of juice that are better than others, yes, of course there are.  Naked is probably one of the better ones, but that doesn’t mean that as a nutritionist I would ever advise someone to drink it. It is NOT organic and all of the flavors are really sugary, like I already pointed out.  The worst brands you could probably drink are the “Light” kinds, which are usually sweetened with Splenda or aspartame, or some other profoundly malevolent substance.  Just look on the ingredient list for sugars, things that you don’t recognize, and look for the word “organic” before every single fruit they list on the ingredients.  Even if the label on the front claims it’s an organic product, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all, or even most, of the ingredients are actually organic.  Check the ingredient list.

Through the Paleo Lens
In the end, I like to ask myself, “Could I have eaten this thing in front of me if I were a hunter gatherer?”  Maybe they would take the time to gather and mash up enough fruit and vegetables to make one glass (clay jar, whatever) of juice, but I’m going to guess that’s not normally what happened.  In my last post I talked about the Inuit people, and how in the summer time they harvested berries and froze them to preserve them for the winter.  I’m laughing to myself right now thinking about them squeezing the juice out of the berries and leaving the pulp for the birds.  Fruit, in many hunter gatherer societies, was a treasured treat – there was no reason to waste any part of it, and our bodies adapted to that in that we don’t handle straight sugar well; we’re designed to take it in with the fiber and other nutrients that make up that sweet little package that is fruit.