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Is Juice From Concentrate Bad?

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Should You Be Having Juice From Concentrate?

Juice from a concentrate may seem sinful but doesn’t always have to be. Minimally processed concentrates can be rich in phenolic compounds and other antioxidant vitamins and minerals. But they might also pack in more sugar and calories than you’d expect. Always read the labels and choose smart to ensure the juice you’re having is a tick for a healthy diet!

Juice concentrates are a handy convenience we’ve created for ourselves. But should you count on it to get to your five a day? Besides the chance of nutrients lost in processing, you may also wind up having artificial flavors and sweeteners, or more sugar than you need through these concentrates. On the other hand, you will also get in a good amount of antioxidants that are great for health. Confused? Don’t be. The answer seems to lie in what kind of concentrate you’re having and what’s on the label.

What Is Concentrate?

Concentrates are reduced concentrated forms of juices which are diluted with water or soda to make a drink. They may or may not have added preservatives, additives, or artificial flavorings or colors. To make it up into juice you simply add the requisite amount of water and drink as you would a normal fruit juice.

Even Better Than The Real Thing?

If your juice concentrate contains all the nutrients you need, in nearly the same quantities as a whole fruit, then the convenience of the drink may be worth it. Since concentrate processed minimally retains much of the original goodness of the fruit, you can save yourself some bother of having to juice a fruit yourself. If getting in adequate antioxidants is your motivation for trying to find ways to get in more fruit and vegetables, or if you’re someone who doesn’t love eating whole fruit but can deal with drinking juice made from concentrate, there’s some good news.

Antioxidant Power

Research has found that concentrates might actually be able to give you the antioxidant power-up you want. These antioxidants are important to lower your risk of metabolic disorders, heart disease, and even cancer. In one study, middle aged men and women who were healthy were found to be falling short of their “daily five”. However, after supplementation with vegetable and mixed fruit concentrates, researchers noted that the plasma levels of folate, selenium, Vitamin C, β-carotene, and Vitamin E, went up. This led them to suggest that these concentrates could be useful in making up the shortfall.1

Rich In Phenolics

Another piece of research on commercial red fruit juice concentrates found that those of elderberry, blackcurrant, and chokeberry were very rich in phenolics and had the strongest antioxidant capacity of all fruit concentrates tested. Researchers suggest that they have potential to be applied as functional juices, foods that have health benefits beyond their role as a food.2

However – and this is a big caveat here – this depends on just how much processing has been done and what additives have gone into that particular concentrate. It is also important to realize that a juice concentrate is like one of the snacks you have in a day, and cannot be seen as a substitute for all your fresh fruit and vegetable requirements for that day. Plus, it does come with some strings attached, as you’ll see from the potential problems detailed after this.

Lost Fiber, Lost Nutrients

Depending on how it has been made, a concentrate could contain nearly all the nutrients of the fruit it has been made from, or very little. The thumb rule is the more processed a food is, the more nutrients it loses. The closer it is to the source fruit or vegetable, the better it is. So in the hierarchy of things, a fruit would be best, followed by juice you squeeze freshly at home or those made at a fresh juice bar with the pulp left in, next would be strained juices where the fiber is out. These would be followed by processed juices or concentrates that are canned or packaged for longer shelf life. If, however, the concentrate is simply reduced juice where the water has been allowed to evaporate, then the only major loss is by way of fiber.

A cup of sliced apple with the skin left on contains about 3 gm of fiber.3Apple juice made from concentrate has a measly 0.2 gm of fiber per cup of the diluted drink.4Orange juice from concentrate doesn’t fare much better, giving you 0.5 gm per cup of the drink5, compared to 4.3 gm from a cup of the fruit segments.6

Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Watch out for the added sugars in concentrates. Some companies try and sweeten them to appeal to a wider audience. And if too much sugar is added, you may not be much better off than if you were to have a sweet soda or “flavored juice drink” which has more sugar than anything of benefit! Red flags are labels that proclaim the drink is a “beverage”, “juice flavored drink” or “punch”. Have too much sugar and you could increase your risk of heart disease even if you are otherwise healthy. Research has found a link between the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality and the number of calories consumed from sugar in your diet. And it doesn’t matter what your age, BMI, gender, or levels of physical activity are, as per one study.7

A cup of apple juice made from frozen concentrate with no added sugar, diluted with thrice the amount of water, has about 26 gm of sugar.8 An entire cup of apples eaten with the skin on, by comparison, give you about 13 gm of sugar.9 As some experts point out, even though fruit juice concentrate and ready made juices are convenient, they back the choice of whole fruit over such drinks because sugar can be as much as 35 percent less on an average. Which is why the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans takes this stance as well.10

Extra Calories

Remember for every additional spoonful of sugar, you’re adding calories too. What you want is something that is “100 percent juice.” Have that cup of apple juice from concentrate even with no extra sugar added in, and you’ll be getting 112 calories.11 If you choose to eat the fruit instead, and leave the skin on for good measure, you get just 65 calories12 and are likely to fill up more too!

Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes And Metabolic Syndrome

If that wasn’t bad enough, some ingredients like high fructose corn syrup are also very high calories and avoidable if you’re watching your weight or fitness. The consumption of a lot of fructose has a role to play in metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, in addition to raising the risk of cardiovascular disease.13

Problems For Diabetics?

If you’re diabetic, you may be better off having whole fruit rather than trying to drink it as a juice, fresh or otherwise. According to the American Diabetes Association, if you have diabetes you need to aim at getting in at least as much fiber as is recommended for the average healthy adult. That’s 38 gm for men and 25 gm for women every day.14And since whole fruit is likely to have more fiber, that’s a better way to use your allocated sugar intake for the day.

Artificial Colors, Flavors, Sweeteners

Juices or concentrates mass produced in factories for longer shelf life may well have some “extras” added in by way of preservatives or flavorings to restore some of the goodness or taste lost in processing. Artificial sweeteners may also be used to produce “sugar-free” versions. To avoid intake of chemicals and keep your diet completely natural, avoid concentrates with these extras.

The Right Way To Use Concentrate In Your Diet

Don’t count on concentrate alone to meet your daily requirement of “five fresh vegetables or fruits” that the health authorities recommend. Instead, view it as a quick fix on days when you can’t find time to cut a fresh fruit and eat it, fiber and all. Or as that mid-morning pick-me-up you need when your energy is ebbing and time is at a premium.

More important, however, is to know what you’re drinking. Look for brands that say 100% juice and have no added preservatives or artificial flavorings or colors. Always cross-check by reading the labels anyway. Watch out for words like “high fructose corn syrup” or names that seem like names of artificial chemicals. That way you can be sure you’re not getting more than you asked for!

As for nutrients, the simplest way to know if you can count your favorite brand of juice concentrate as one of the portions of fresh produce is to check the labeling for levels of various nutrients that are recommended for daily intake. Do the math to see how far it will get you on the daily recommended intake for each of the nutrients you want.

References   [ + ]

1. Kiefer, Ingrid, Peter Prock, Catherine Lawrence, John Wise, Wilfried Bieger, Peter Bayer, Theres Rathmanner, Michael Kunze, and Anita Rieder. “Supplementation with mixed fruit and vegetable juice concentrates increased serum antioxidants and folate in healthy adults.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 23, no. 3 (2004): 205-211.
2. Bermúdez-Soto, María J., and Francisco A. Tomás-Barberán. “Evaluation of commercial red fruit juice concentrates as ingredients for antioxidant functional juices.” European Food Research and Technology 219, no. 2 (2004): 133-141.
3, 9, 12. Apples, raw, with skin. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.
4, 8, 11. Apple juice, frozen concentrate, unsweetened, diluted with 3 volume water without added ascorbic acid. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.
5. Orange juice, frozen concentrate, unsweetened, diluted with 3 volume water, with added calcium. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.
6. Oranges, raw, all commercial varieties. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.
7. Yang, Quanhe, Zefeng Zhang, Edward W. Gregg, W. Dana Flanders, Robert Merritt, and Frank B. Hu. “Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults.” JAMA internal medicine 174, no. 4 (2014): 516-524.
10. Crowe, Kristi Michele, and Elizabeth Murray. “Deconstructing a fruit serving: comparing the antioxidant density of select whole fruit and 100% fruit juices.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 113, no. 10 (2013): 1354-1358.
13. Stanhope, Kimber L., Jean-Marc Schwarz, and Peter J. Havel. “Adverse metabolic effects of dietary fructose: results from recent epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies.” Current opinion in lipidology 24, no. 3 (2013): 198.
14. About Our Meal Plans. American Diabetes Association.