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Debunking the juice fad

  • Kyra Scott loads kale into a juicer at Protein Bar in Chicago, Ill.

    E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune

    Kyra Scott loads kale into a juicer at Protein Bar in Chicago, Ill.

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By Abby Olena
Chicago Tribune
  • Kyra Scott loads kale into a juicer at Protein Bar in Chicago, Ill.

    E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune

    Kyra Scott loads kale into a juicer at Protein Bar in Chicago, Ill.

The marketing for freshly pressed and blended juices promises instant energy, weight loss, a flood of vitamins and minerals -- all in a single, portable, gulpable serving.
Health-minded consumers seem to have bought the claims, and with them, gallons of juice.
Tools for juicing at home are also a big business; one of the dozens of juicer choices, a stainless steel model with more than 100 reviews, sells for close to $1,200.
According to dietitians and nutrition scientists, juice is far from the healthiest way to consume fruit, and one expert went so far as to call its popularity a dangerous trend.
"The fruit juice industry has essentially taken the 'apple-a-day' mentality and used it to sell fruit juices as healthy," said Barry Popkin, a professor in the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina.
Popkin and other experts would rather see people eating whole fruit. Because most juicing methods remove the produce's fiber, drinking juice omits one of the key benefits of eating fruit, while delivering huge amounts of sugar and calories.
"Every one of the long-term studies of the health effects of fruit juices shows that you increase your risk of diabetes and weight gain" with regular juice consumption, Popkin said.
Expensive, freshly pressed fruit juices from the local juice bar are no healthier than the kind sold in grocery stores, Popkin said.
Smoothies do provide fiber, as the entire fruit often goes into the blender, skins and all, but they still contain a lot of calories.
Choosing a vegetable-based juice or smoothie is one way to reduce the sugar content, health advocates say.
Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian on Jamba Juice's Healthy Living Council said she does not consider juices miraculous but, because of the vitamins and minerals, they are a good alternative to beverages that contain only calories.
But according to Lara Field, a pediatric dietitian at the University of Chicago Medical Center and founder of a nutrition counseling practice, the sugar in fruit juice far outweighs any possible benefit from the concentrated vitamins and minerals.
"Eating too much fruit can make us gain weight, just like eating too much candy," Field said.
Plus, the fiber in fruit complements the vitamins and minerals, so juice drinkers miss out on the optimal health benefits, said Bethany Doerfler, clinical research dietitian at Northwestern Medicine.
Americans already are harming their health by not consuming enough fiber, said Joanne Slavin, professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota and a self-described "fiber person."
Diets higher in fiber are associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and lower body weight, Slavin said, yet most American adults only achieve half the recommended daily fiber intake, which is 25 to 38 grams.
"I want people to eat more fiber," Slavin said, and that includes choosing whole fruits over juice.
Eating fiber also contributes to a feeling of fullness, or satiety, that helps prevent people from overeating.
Some nutrition experts acknowledge that drinking produce is better than consuming none at all.
Federal dietary guidelines state that 4 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice are equivalent to a half-cup of whole fresh fruit, Welland said.
Those guidelines also recommend that the majority of fruit consumed be whole fruit, but it can be challenging for adults to eat the suggested 1½ to 2 cups of fruit and 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables a day.
"Sitting down to a bowl of kale is intimidating," said Northwestern's Doerfler, and that's one possible reason juices and smoothies are so popular.
Doerfler said smoothies and juice could be a less scary way to shift to a more plant-based diet.
Predominantly vegetable-based blends are a healthier choice with "a small amount of fruit to make a juice or smoothie more palatable," she said.
Story tags » Nutrition

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