Image: Glasses of juice
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Juice can be good for you, but research shows it isn't an equal substitute for solid fruits and vegetables.
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 4/13/2007 9:23:08 AM ET 2007-04-13T13:23:08

Many of us have trouble meeting recommendations to make vegetables and fruits a major part of our diets. Is drinking more juice the solution?

Research supports categorizing juice as a nutritious beverage, but juice cannot provide the full benefits that come from eating solid vegetables and fruits.

Evidence continues to accumulate on the many ways that vegetables and fruits promote good health, reducing risk of major chronic disorders such as heart disease and cancer. Although for more than 20 years Americans have been told a mostly plant-based diet lowers cancer risk, American’s consumption of produce has grown slowly.

Surveys estimate that less than a quarter of American adults today meet the minimum recommendation of five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, much less the seven to 10 servings considered optimal. Some people may wonder whether drinking more juice to increase our servings of fruits and vegetables might be easier than changing the foods we select throughout the day.

Depending on the particular choice, juice can be a good source of important nutrients, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, the B vitamin folate and the mineral potassium. Juice also contains other antioxidants that protect the body. It’s no surprise that when people who eat low amounts of fruit and vegetables add several servings of juice daily, the antioxidants in their body increase, reducing risk of heart disease, cancer and perhaps even age-related eye disease and dementia.

However, studies show that most fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants in the skins and peels, which do not make it into juice.  For example, one study reports that a whole orange contains up to five times more of one major antioxidant than a glass of orange juice.  The antioxidant is found in the white pulp and membranes that separate the orange segments from each other.

Mix it up
Eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, which provide a full array of natural plant compounds, is key to reducing cancer risk. Cancer protection comes from far more than accumulating antioxidants. When we eat berries, garlic and cruciferous and dark green vegetables, for example, we get compounds that lead to the self-destruction of cells that might develop into cancer.

Solid fruits and vegetables also provide dietary fiber not found in juice. Bacteria in our colon break down soluble fiber, producing fatty acids that some studies suggest protects our colon against cancer-causing influences. Overall, studies have produced conflicting results on the significance of fiber for cancer prevention, but it is far too early to dismiss.

Eating solid fruits and vegetables can also lower risk of cancer and heart disease by helping you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Juice does not offer the same weight control benefits. Fruit juice is a more concentrated source of calories than solid fruits and vegetables. A one-half cup serving of most vegetables and fruit contains from 25 to 70 calories. Even a modest serving of most fruit juice six ounces contains 70 to 105 calories. (Tomato-based juices are the low-calorie exception.)

Furthermore, numerous studies show that we don’t tend to make up for calories we drink by eating any less. When we eat fiber-rich food such as fruits and vegetables, however, we tend to feel full and thus, eat fewer calories.

One or two daily servings of juice can certainly have a place as part of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet. But don’t be misled: juice is not an equal substitute for solid fruits and vegetables. The benefits of fruits and vegetables are worth the effort of learning to include them abundantly in your meals and snacks.

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