Ranking Juices by How Healthy They Are

Surprise! Most juices are less fix-all tonics, more sugar-overdose fructose bombs

Juice is something of an anomaly. It generally contains healthy ingredients, like fruits and veggies, yet as we’ve seen time and again, the processes that these fruits and veggies undergo to become juice takes them out of the “healthy” category and into, at best, “meh?”

For instance, during my analysis of the ingredients in cold-pressed juice, Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, told me that making a salad with healthy ingredients is much more nutritious than juicing them. “Juicing these ingredients  —  for the most part  —  significantly reduces their fiber content and satiating power,” she explained. “We also don’t process liquid calories in the same way we process chewable calories.” As a result, we tend to consume far more calories than we might otherwise.

Then, during my investigation of the ingredients in Tropicana Orange Juice, I discovered that their juice actually goes through a lengthy, unnatural process, which is a far cry from the orchard-to-bottle image their marketing team sells us.

So yeah, overall, juice is much less healthy than you might think. “Most fruit juices, especially those without pulp, are unfortunately sugary beverages,” Hunnes explains (in many cases, fruit juices contain just as much sugar as soda). “Yes, it’s a healthy sugar, because it comes naturally from the fruit, but still, some juices can have upwards of 150 calories per cup, which is similar to soda. I wouldn’t recommend drinking juice on a regular basis if you can eat the fruit instead, which is much healthier because it contains the fiber, pectin [which can lower cholesterol and might prevent cancer] and other nutrients that synergistically make the fruit better than the juice.”

But as with anything — even plain old vegetables — some juices are healthier than others, which is why I asked Hunnes to help me rank a bunch of them — from pretty freakin’ healthy to straight-up crap.

First, though, let’s go over some of those confusing terms and phrases that companies use to explain how their juices are made. Here’s my previous explanation for cold-pressed juice, which is one of the more popular forms of juice today (thanks to the popularization of juicing):

“To gather cold-pressed juice, a massive hydraulic press pushes fruits and vegetables through a fine mesh to squeeze nearly all of the juice out of the produce. This is, by all accounts, more nutritious than juice made by the more traditional centrifugal juicer (the kind you might have hidden away in your hard-to-reach kitchen cabinet). That’s because centrifugal juicers incorporate a fast-spinning metal blade that twists against a mesh filter, separating the juice from the flesh of the produce by means of centrifugal force. Because the fast-spinning metal blade generates heat — which apparently renders the nutrients within juice less nutritious — cold-pressing is the current health-nut flavor of the month.”

Hunnes generally agrees that cold-pressing is one of the healthier ways to make juice, although she also recommends something a little different. “While I would say, of the methods you list, this is probably the most likely to give you the most nutrients from the fruit itself, the one I would advocate more for would be to place a whole fruit into a blender and then just blend away until you get a pulpy, thick juice,” she says. “The more like the whole fruit you can get juice to be, the better it will be for you.”

Then, of course, we have “from concentrate” and “not from concentrate,” both of which I explained in my exploration of Tropicana OJ:

“As a quick aside, ‘from concentrate’ means that, after the juice has been squeezed, the excess water is removed. This basically allows for more efficient packaging and transportation, both of which can be extremely costly when dealing with tons and tons of OJ. Then, once the now-concentrated juice has been transported, the water is added back in before it hits the shelves. Therefore, “not from concentrate” obviously means that they simply never removed that excess water. Interestingly enough, whether the juice is from concentrate or otherwise has virtually no effect on the nutritional content — ‘not from concentrate’ is really just a marketing ploy meant to push this idea that their OJ goes straight from the orchard to your glass.”

So yeah, “from concentrate” or otherwise doesn’t really matter when we’re talking about healthiness. However, Hunnes mentions that juices from concentrate might not taste quite as fresh.

Lastly, we have smoothies, which admittedly are much more than juice. “Smoothies, I suppose, are probably more like my preferred method [described above], where you may theoretically be eating more of the whole fruit, as opposed to just the juice,” she says. That said, if you start adding ice cream and stuff like that, things can go downhill quickly.

Now that we have an incredibly deep understanding of juice in its many forms, let’s go ahead and get to our ranking of the more common single ingredient juices:

1) Tomato Juice: This probably has the least amount of sugar,” Hunnes says. “It’s also high in lycopene [an antioxidant that’s been linked to many health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer] and potassium [a nutrient that helps relieve muscle spasms, reduces inflammation and lowers blood pressure].”

2) Cranberry Juice: “If this is 100 percent cranberry juice, with no other juices added, then this is second in my book,” says Hunnes. “It’s low in sugar and possibly good for UTI prevention. But it will be sour.” As we learned in a previous article, though, you’d have to drink a shitload of cranberry juice in order for it to really prevent UTIs. On the plus side, cranberries are quite high in vitamin C, which helps the immune system.

3) Pomegranate Juice: “This is similar to cranberry juice, but sweeter, tarter and high in phytonutrients due to its very dark color,” Hunnes explains. Phytonutrients possess an impressive list of health benefits: They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, while also providing support for the immune system, repairing DNA from exposure to toxic chemicals and detoxifying carcinogens (which reduces cancer and heart disease risks).

4) Carrot Juice: “This is high in vitamin A, which may help your eyesight,” Hunnes says. As far as sugar content goes, it’s also comparable to tomato juice, which is a good thing. Better yet, carrots contain high levels of beta-carotene, which acts as an antioxidant that slows down cellular aging, which could theoretically slow down the overall aging process.

5) Grape Juice: “Similar to wine, grape juice can contain resveratrol [a compound that might protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, vascular dementia and simply extend your lifespan] and other phytonutrients that may prevent heart disease,” Hunnes says.

6) Orange Juice: Hunnes says that this is high in potassium, but also, as you may have suspected, high in sugar. But hey, mimosas!

7) Mango Juice: “This is high in vitamin A, which again, is good for your eyes,” Hunnes says. “It’s fairly high in potassium as well.”

8) Pineapple Juice: Pineapple is one of the only major sources of bromelain, and according to one study, bromelain has anti-inflammatory properties that can be useful in the treatment of sports injuries. As we also learned in a previous article, pineapple juice might actually help you taste better down under, if you catch my drift. While Hunnes says pineapple juice is mostly just sugar, she does mention that it might be good for diuresis — getting rid of extra salt in the body — so there’s that.

9) Apple Juice: “There’s not much to this but sweetness,” Hunnes says. Like apples, apple juice does actually contain an array of vitamins and minerals; however, as Hunnes explained earlier, juicing can result in losing a lot of that good stuff.

10) Lemonade: “This barely contains fruit juice,” Hunnes says. “It’s mostly sugar and water.”

The real takeaway here should simply be that, when you compare whole fruits and veggies to those made into juice, the juice contains less of the good stuff and more of the bad. So, as Hunnes mentioned before, you’re much better off eating your fruits and veggies instead of drinking them.