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Nutrition: Should You Eat or Drink Your Fruits and Veggies?

By Michael R. Williams, RD

Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet. It is recommended that half our meals should come from these groups. For adults, these would mean a combined total of 4–6 cups per day. And this is for good reason. High fruit and vegetable intakes are continually associated with increased health and low rates of chronic disease.

Unfortunately, it can be tough to get this much. In fact, the average New Yorker only eats 1.6 cups of the 4–6 recommended. With high recommendations and low intakes, fruit juices are sometimes suggested as a quick, easy and tasty way to get some health benefits. But is drinking fruits and vegetables the same as eating them?

Antioxidants are one of the reasons fruits and vegetables are important. Just like a car rusts over time, so do our bodies through a process called oxidation. Plant foods like fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which slow down this oxidation, thus decreasing bodily stress and inflammation.

If fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of antioxidants, then would juice, a concentrated and condensed form of fruit, contain even more?

Earlier this year Dr. Kristi Crowe of the University of Alabama investigated this question. She first compared the antioxidant content of fresh fruit and fruit juices. Her research found that fresh fruits contained higher numbers of antioxidants when compared to both name brand and store brand juices. Both fresh apples and grapefruit were found to have 50 percent higher levels of antioxidants than a serving of their juice.

Not all juices are created equal. In the same study, Dr. Crowe found that when it comes to juice, commercial-brands may be the best. Along with fresh fruit, she compared store brand and commercial brand juices. In almost all juices, the commercial brands had higher levels of antioxidants than the store brands. She states that this may be due to different methods of processing. While juicing fruits will lead to some antioxidant loss, some methods of processing juice can lead to much bigger losses.

The processing of juice also removes fiber. This is particularly important when it comes to weight management. Fiber helps keep food in the stomach, which allows for the release of hunger-reducing hormones. But juices and most liquids pass by the stomach too quickly for the release of these hormones. So instead we get a lot of sugar with very little fullness. For example, it takes about four oranges to make a cup of juice. This cup of juice has the same amount of sugar and calories as four oranges but is much easier to drink with a meal. Unfortunately, this can make it very easy to consume too many calories and ultimately gain weight.

Drinking juice may be a convenient way to obtain some of the healthful benefits of fruits and vegetables. It is certainly better to have juice than no fruits and vegetables at all. Nonetheless, there are many more benefits to whole fruits and vegetables, such as decreasing chronic disease risk. While getting a total 4–6 cups of fruits and vegetables each day may be tough, centering meals on these food groups with the occasional glass of juice can help prolong a healthy and vital life.

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