There’s nothing like making fresh raw vegetable or fruit juice at home with your own juicer. But let’s be honest, it takes time, energy and a commitment to keep up the routine at home. The availability and the variety of store-bought juice concoctions have absolutely exploded on the market and tempt us with convenience, fancy marketings and a bunch of healthy buzz words. Here’s the scoop on how tricky understanding juice labels can be at the grocery store and how to choose the best store bought juices for you and your family.
“100% Juice” Doesn’t Mean Anything
What does 100% juice really mean? Not much. Food companies are allowed to say 100% juice on the label even though their juice contains additional additives, flavorings or preservatives. In the case of V8, they add sodium (salt), flavoring, vitamin C and citric acid to preserve the juice for a longer shelf life. All of these added ingredients do nothing for your body and in some cases could harm you. This isn’t exactly a healthy dose of juice after considering the flavoring on the label could be made from petroleum that is often contaminated with carcinogens. Also, flavoring could have hidden MSG in it – which increases cravings and addiction (so food companies profit more). Companies that use flavoring won’t tell you exactly what’s in it either, they’ll say their formula is proprietary and keep you guessing.
“Concentrate” Is Just A Fancy Name for Syrup
Another way juice companies sabotage you, is by using shelf-stable juice concentrates instead of real juice. Juice concentrates are made from fruits and vegetables that are heated down to syrup and then have water added back in. The concentration process involves both adding in and subtracting chemicals and natural plant by-products in order to condense the juice. During the concentration process, fruits and vegetables lose flavor and this is one of the reasons why companies have to re-add “flavoring” to make the juice taste fresh.
The concentration allows juice companies to keep their juice shelf stable, preserved longer and allows them to save money during fruit processing. In other words, juice companies sell you an inferior product while making more money.
“Not From Concentrate” Could Be Flavored
What if the label explicitly states “not from concentrate.” Does that mean that the product has no added flavors? No. Actually, that’s a big fat no! When most commercially available orange juices are made, according to the book Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice, the juice is stored in giant tanks and the oxygen is removed from them, which allows the liquid to keep for up to a year without spoiling. This storage makes the orange juice lose mega flavor. So the industry uses “flavor packs” to re-flavor the juice. Even if your juice says “100% juice” or “premium” on the ingredient label, it can still have these flavor packs, because they are not required to be listed on the ingredient label because technically they are derived from orange essence or oil. Sneaky, huh? Ever wonder why store-bought juice can achieve that consistent “trademarked” taste, bottle after bottle? Now you know! (Please note: Uncle Matt’s is a brand that is 100% juice, not from concentrate that specifically does not use flavor packs.)
Many juice companies use an ingredient called citric acid to extend the shelf life of their product. Most people would think this citric acid comes from, well, citrus like lemons, oranges and limes, but it doesn’t. The ingredients most food manufacturers use to create citric acid are genetically engineered corn and sugar beets, by synthetically fermenting the glucose from these crops in a laboratory.
Also, some juice companies go as far as adding sugar (that could be from GMO sugar beets), high fructose corn syrup (from GMO corn) and/or other ingredients that could contain GMOs. Tropicana, Ocean Spray and Minute Maid are huge offenders of this – so it’s no surprise they were some of the companies who gave millions of dollars recently in Washington to stop GMO labeling. They don’t want you to know their juices are full of GMOs.
Remember GMOs have never been tested long term on humans, and are linked to the rise in allergies, infertility and auto-immune disorders, not to mention they have increased the use of toxic pesticides in the environment by 500 million pounds.
It is absolutely critical we get GMO labeling in this country. We deserve the right to know what we are eating and the companies fighting against this basic fundamental right do not deserve our money.
The sneakiest of ingredients that can show up in juice are in the form of synthetic ingredients that seem natural but are actually man-made and created in a laboratory.
Naked Juice (owned by Pepsi Co) was recently sued because they claimed their juices were 100% All Natural but really contain these synthetic ingredients:
- Fibersol-2 — a proprietary synthetic digestion-resistant fiber produced by Archer Daniels Midland and developed by a Japanese chemical company.
- Fructooligosaccharides — a synthetic fiber and sweetener.
- Inulin — an artificial and invisible fiber added to foods to artificially increase fiber content.
This example is just one of the reasons why it’s incredibly important to look at the ingredient list rather than the marketing lingo on the front of the label. (FYI – The Wall Street Journal just reported, Pepsi plans to drop the “All Natural” label on Naked Juice)
Also, make sure to watch out for other harmful ingredients like artificial food coloring. I was shocked to see that so many innocent looking juice brands use petroleum based dyes to color their juices, like Ocean Spray’s Red Ruby Grapefruit Juice.
Here’s the real killer, no pun intended. Most juice companies use traditional pasteurization or flash pasteurization to destroy harmful bacteria, viruses, molds, and other microorganisms to safeguard our health by heating the juice (this would be the second time your juice is heated if you are drinking juice from concentrate). But during this process, pasteurization also kills raw enzymes, minerals and vitamins – the reason that we are drinking the juice in the first place. Heat kills the bad stuff and good stuff, making the juice pretty much worthless to consume.
Juice companies sometimes even replenish the lost vitamin content with synthetic vitamins because there is barely any nutrition left after processing. In the book Pandora’s Lunchbox, Melanie Warner questions what happens during processing and determined “like vitamins, phytochemicals are being destroyed or removed in manufacturing and therefore aren’t particularly abundant in processed juices. Adding them back in wouldn’t work from a biological point of view, meaning they don’t function effectively when isolated from their natural fruit and vegetable habitat.” Furthermore, most companies create vitamins by chemical manipulation and synthesis, not from actual fruits and vegetables.
Choosing The Best Juice
So you must be wondering, are there any store-bought juices that are nutritious to drink? I created this chart below to help you navigate the juice aisles more clearly and choose the best store-bought juice. Thankfully, there are lots of options for us!
It is absolutely critical that you choose organic juice first and foremost. The amount of pesticides that you could be consuming could be astronomical otherwise. We know that increased exposure to pesticides is linked to birth defects, nerve damage and cancer. The President’s Cancer Panel has urged us not to consume food sprayed with pesticides and doesn’t believe any amount is safe.
In an ideal world, you would always be able to consume a juice raw straight out of a juicer. Enzymes, vitamins and minerals start to degrade over time, so timing is important. If your juice is fresh, it’s important to drink it as soon as possible.
Cold-pressing is the most nutritious way to obtain juice. First, the produce is ground into a fine pulp. Then a press applies thousands of pounds of pressure to the pulp extracting every ounce of juice that the fruit or vegetable has to give. This process gets all the vital nutrients from the pulp into the juice. Cold-Pressed juices have a longer shelf life than centrifuge or slow juicers. Juice Press, Organic Avenue, and Luna’s Living Kitchen (One of my favorite restaurants in Charlotte!) all have raw organic cold-pressed juice available for purchase in their stores. Health food stores like Whole Foods sometimes makes their cold press juices in advance or carries brands like Suja, that are found in the refrigerator section.
The next best thing to raw in-store cold pressed juice is HPP or High Pressure Processing. This method retains food quality, maintains freshness, and extends microbiological shelf life without the addition of heat. After juices are bottled, a high level of cool pressure is applied evenly to destroy any pathogens and ensure the juice is safe to drink while preserving all of the vitamins, enzymes and nutrients. Grocery stores like Whole Foods likes selling HPP juices because they safeguard the consumer from foodborne illnesses more effectively than raw juices. Suja is a popular organic juice brand that uses HPP, but also cold-presses their juice (and gave money in support of GMO labeling – yeah!). Their Twelve Essentials is one of my favorites. They also recently developed a line called “Suja Elements” that is more like a smoothie. It’s the type of product you’d choose over Naked Juice, Odwalla, or Bolthouse Farms Smoothies – since all of those are traditionally pasteurized with heat and can contain additives. See this smoothie comparison chart below for details:
Finding Organic Pressed Juice Near You
My friend Max Goldberg created the world’s first Pressed Juice Directory, where you can find organic juice wherever you are. He created this directory because he (like me) tries to eat 100% organic whenever possible and wanted the ability to find quality juice on the road while he traveled. I can’t thank him enough for this amazing tool! It makes finding organic juice and traveling so much easier.
If you have any questions about choosing the best store-bought juice, let me know in the comments below.
Also, if you know someone in your life that is still drinking a juice that’s on the “worst” side of the chart above, please share this post with them. Spreading awareness about how our food is produced and which companies we should support will change the marketplace!
I’ve seen this with my own eyes