01.12.2012 Naturopathy

Juicy Stuff

To juice or not to juice? Naturopath Jeremy Hill offers advice

Are you a lover of the juicy stuff? Do you feel a bit guilty because of all that sugar? Some say fruit juice is good for you, others say it's bad. Experts contradict each other and the rest of us are justifiably confused. So, is fruit juice a nutritional bonanza, or just liquid sugar? Which is better, fresh or bottled, clear or cloudy?

Let's examine this juicy story.

The real deal: Before I get into which juice does what, I must point out that eating whole fresh fruit is generally a much better option than drinking fruit juice. The reason for this is twofold: firstly, the caloric value of a piece of fruit tends to be less than a glass of juice. As anyone who has made orange juice the old fashioned way knows, at least two oranges need to be squeezed to make a very small glass of orange juice. So while one would rarely go to the trouble of peeling and eating a couple of oranges, a glass of OJ can double your calories for half the effort. The second point is that fibre found in fruit simply is not in most fruit juices, thus allowing a more rapid hit to your blood sugar level.

Have your fruit and juice it too: Two simple strategies can help: lowering the calorie load is simple, just dilute your juices with water by half, thus making a big difference to your sugar load. Next, mix a teaspoon of psyllium into your juice. The soluble fibre will delay the sugar hit. Easy wasn't it. If you miss the sweetness, try adding a little xylitol. This natural sweetener, produced in fruits and vegetables, has a similar taste and texture to sugar and a glycemic index of only seven, plus the effect of inhibiting the streptococci mutans bacteria that can cause dental cavities.

Hail the humble OJ: Orange juice has recently been shown as able to inhibit the oxidative stress and inflammation induced by eating a high fat, high carbohydrate meal. Although I found the quantity of calories consumed by participants in this study unrealistically high, this type of research has implications for developing strategies for the management of metabolic syndrome and related disorders.

An apple a day: Apple juice has been shown to impart numerous benefits, including reducing the risk of developing various types of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Cloudy apple juice has been found to have much greater benefit due to the richer profile of chemicals such as catechins, quercetin and anthocyanins. One interesting effect demonstrated recently includes inducing reduced weight and waist measurements of obese males who expressed a particular gene variant. Meanwhile, a goji berry juice exhibited a similar effect in another study. As the research on the benefits of eating berries continues to flood in, there has been a noticeable appearance of berry-containing juices, which can only be a good thing if the moderation rule is applied.

Food as medicine: As scientists unravel the literally thousands of nutrients in our foods and their often amazing therapeutic potential, the saying "you are what you eat" just doesn't seem to do justice to the many biochemical-altering effects our food choices impart upon us.

Grapefruit juice is a terrific example of the double-edged potential of our food choices. Tantalisingly tangy in taste and not suited to the palate of everyone, grapefruit juice has been shown to significantly reduce triglyceride and low density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. On the other hand, grapefruit juice contains the chemical naringenin, which can dramatically and dangerously increase the blood levels of the cholesterol-lowering statin medications. Several other drugs can be similarly affected and this should be discussed with your doctor if you are taking medications.

Suck it up: A concern to watch out for regarding fruit juice intake is the potential for the acidity of fruit to erode dental enamel, exposing teeth to an increased risk of cavity formation and tooth wearing. Lemon juice is great for helping to alkalise your body, but, paradoxically, has an acidic effect on our teeth when we drink it, which can potentially affect tooth enamel. Although all fruit juices tend to be acidic, this tends to be more of a risk with higher intakes. Drinking your juices with a straw can easily bypass this problem.

Sweet trap: The biggest risk in drinking fruit juice is that you are increasing your intake of the fruit sugar, fructose. Numerous studies have correlated fructose consumption with an increased risk of developing gout, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension, high cholesterol and fatty liver. However, reviews of this research suggest that these risks are not significant as long as consumption is not excessive. As with many things in life, it is the excess that is the problem.

Don't be fooled: Most of the fruit juices lining our supermarket shelves are labelled "made in Australia from imported ingredients". Many of the standards we take for granted in Australia regarding food production are not adhered to elsewhere. Subsequently, many contain traces of certain toxic chemicals which are banned for use in Australia. Check labels and buy locally. Your health is always worth spending the little bit extra for quality.

So, mix some locally grown, pulpy, antioxidant-laden juices with some fresh mint, ice and mineral water, and enjoy a very merry Christmas punch.

Good health,

Jeremy Hill

Jeremy Hill AdvDipNutMed, AdvDipWHM, NDAdv is a Perth-based naturopath