The Real Juice Story

by Charles Platkin, PhD

NO CALORIE BARGAIN Even 100% juice has real calories — in most cases, it has the same calories as soda, sweetened iced tea, and fancy coffee drinks. Think about it: five or six oranges had to be squeezed to make one glass of juice — so you’re getting the sugar from all those oranges.

Not only that, but if you drink 100 calories of juice, you won’t feel as full as you would after eating 100 calories of food. “Juices do not seem to elicit the signals the body normally puts out to tell us when we’re full. We don’t get full from liquid calories in the same way that we fill up from the calories in solid foods,” says Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at Penn State University and author of “The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan.” “We typically don’t compensate for those extra fluid calories by eating less solid food, which can eventually lead to weight gain.”

This is especially pertinent to kids. “Many of the patients I see in a pediatric weight management clinic are drinking up to half of their calorie needs in the form of juice,” says Allison Morrow R.D., L.D., a dietitian at the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.

It’s hard to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables, so parents often resort to offering juice, thinking it’s a natural, healthy alternative. “Although an occasional cup of juice can fit into a healthy diet, children should learn to enjoy water and get their fruit energy from whole sources — start them young and have them eat whole fruits,” says Jeanne P. Goldberg, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of nutrition at Tufts University.

THE WHOLE THING When you eat a whole fruit instead of drinking it, you get so much more — vitamins, minerals, and those widely sought anti-aging, disease-fighting antioxidants and other phytochemicals. “We continue to discover a variety of new healthy compounds in fruits and vegetables — and processing the foods into a juice could reduce some of their effects,” says Dr. Goldberg. The saying is “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” — not a glass of apple juice.

Juice is less filling than whole fruit and contains very little of the original fiber fruits are famous for (whose health benefits include reducing the risk of some cancers, lowering cholesterol, and keeping you “regular”). A large orange has four grams of fiber, whereas an eight-ounce glass of orange juice has just about one gram of fiber. Prune juice is an exception with three grams of fiber per cup.

Do your own test: on one day, have an apple and another day, a glass of apple juice — see which makes you feel more satisfied. Keep in mind that an apple contains only 81 calories and has four grams of fiber, whereas apple juice has 117 calories per eight ounces and almost no fiber.

I fell for this one myself. I always hated the “pieces” in juices as a kid, but as an adult I started drinking the juice with the pulp because I thought it was better for me. But actually, there isn’t necessarily more fiber in the juice if it includes pulp — even the ones called “Lots of Pulp”. For instance, Tropicana Pure Premium Grovestand Orange Juice, Lots of Pulp, has 110 calories and NO fiber.

Beware of words like “drink,” “punch,” “cocktail,” “beverage” and “ade.” These are not 100% juice and sometimes only have 5% or 10% fruit juice. “If a product claims to contain fruit juice by name or by pictures on the package, then they must acknowledge the percentage of fruit juice on the nutrition label,” says Morrow.

These days, it seems as if the FDA will let food companies claim almost anything on their labels without reprisal. Many juice products have added calcium, vitamin B, lutein and other vitamins and minerals, just so they can make an additional health claim on the packaging or in their advertising. Therefore, it’s important to use a critical eye when evaluating the health claims. For example, Ocean Spray claims on its website that cranberry juice will maintain urinary tract health; while this may be true, there have only been two studies out of five that can support this claim (not conclusive), according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

On the other side of the spectrum, some fruits and juices should come with a health warning — specifically grapefruits and grapefruit juice. “Grapefruit contains an active ingredient that inhibits an enzyme and, as such, it can interfere with the absorption and metabolism of drugs. People should tell their doctors if they are grapefruit juice drinkers,” says Anthony W. Fox, M.D., Ph.D., FFPM.

One health warning you won’t find on any label though, is that juice, like soda, can do some pretty extensive damage to your teeth (due to the sugar).

Although not as popular, vegetable juice is a much better choice in terms of calories. But it’s still preferable to eat the real thing. Juicing your vegetables yourself was very popular in the 90s, but the trend has since died down. The premise behind juicing vegetables is that the high nutrient content of vegetable juices will eradicate harmful “toxins” that are produced by the body and absorbed from the environment.

  • Carrot juice (8 oz): 94 calories, 0g fat, 22g carbs, 2g fiber
  • Celery juice (8 oz): 42 calories, 0g fat, 9g carbs, 4g fiber
  • V8 100% Vegetable juice (8 oz): 50 calories, 0g fat, 10g carbs, 2g fiber

A good old-fashioned carton of lemonade is loaded with sugar. This is real liquid candy. Try water with a few lemon wedges instead.

  • Minute Maid Lemonade (12 oz. can): 150 calories, 0g fat, 42g carbs, 40g sugar


  • Try a mixture of five ounces of seltzer and three ounces of juice (a total of 41 calories), for a savings of 69 calories. If you drink OJ every day, this could save you almost 500 calories per week, or about half a pound per month.
  • Veryfine just came out with a great line of calorie-free flavored waters called Fruit20 (made with Splenda). They take a bit of getting used to, but they taste great, and kids will really enjoy them.
  • Brew your own iced tea, adding mint and lemon.
  • Diet V8 Splash is another alternative. They use Splenda as the main sweetener to cut down on calories. Instead of 110 calories like the regular V8 Splash, the diet version has only 10.
  • If you’re going for real juice, remember that six ounces is the serving size. Order the smallest available — don’t supersize.
Rate this post

You may also like

Subscribe To The Weekly Food & Nutrition News and Research Digest
Our weekly email news and research digest is everything you need to know about food, nutrition, fitness and health.
No Thanks
Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will NEVER be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.