Looking for a healthy way to quench your thirst? While milk has been touted for its ability to "do a body good," there's another beverage on the market with equally beneficial properties, and that's juice. People have been drinking juice for centuries, but the category has recently gained new ground, especially in the natural foods industry. Juices have long been popular with natural foods customers, but recently manufacturers have developed products that not only taste great but also pack a powerful nutritional punch.
"As a trend, consumers are drinking more nutrient-dense juices instead of the watered-down versions. Drinking juice allows them to make healthy choices that taste great, too," says Matt McLean, president of Uncle Matt's Organics, a Clermont, Fla.-based producer of organic citrus fruits and juices.
Juice's health benefits are many, but can be summed up in one buzzword: antioxidants. "Antioxidants come in many forms and are basically compounds that help the body combat the oxidation process. For example, when you cut an apple and leave it out in the open, the process of it turning brown is called oxidation," says Barr Hogen, creative chef for Dinuba, Calif.-based Odwalla juice company. Free radicals do the same thing to our bodies on the inside, causing damage that can lead to inflammation, disease and premature aging. But, just like squeezing vitamin C-rich lemon juice on an exposed apple will prevent it from turning brown, consuming antioxidants can prevent free-radical damage in humans. New and improved juice options in the natural marketplace offer antioxidants in numerous forms.
Vitamins and minerals
Depending on dietary needs, consumers can increase their intake of vitamins A and C, B-complex vitamins, and minerals such as potassium and zinc by drinking juice. Citrus fruits are especially high in vitamin C, blueberries are a good source of B vitamins, and carrots and apricots provide vitamin A.
Many of these nutrients are strong anti?oxidants that may protect against certain health conditions. For instance, vitamin C has been linked to a decreased risk of some cancers and heart disease. It has also been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, boost immune health and eye health, and reduce allergy symptoms. According to the December 2004 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vitamin C plays a protective role against oxidized lipids, which have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, a study published in the May 2006 issue of Nutrition: The International Journal of Applied and Basic Nutritional Sciences, found that drinking vitamin C-rich citrus juice increased the amount of antioxidants in the bloodstream and decreased the risk of osteoporosis.
Polyphenols, a class of antioxidants commonly found in tea, wine, and fruit and vegetable juice, have been credited with numerous healing qualities, including reducing the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Most recently, polyphenols have been associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease. Researchers at Vanderbilt University found that adults who drank three or more servings of fruit and vegetable juices per week had a 76 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than those who drank juice less than once per week. While previous studies have credited vitamins for juice's health benefits, this study, published in the September 2006 issue of The American Journal of Medicine, points to polyphenols for preventing the disease.
"Animal studies and cell-culture studies confirmed that some polyphenols from juices showed a stronger neuroprotective effect than antioxidant vitamins," says Qi Dai, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt and co-author of the study.
Tannins and bioflavonoids are specific classes of polyphenols that have been shown to promote good health. Tannins, for example, found in cranberry, pomegranate and apple juices, among others, are partly responsible for cranberry juice's ability to prevent urinary tract infections, according to research performed by scientists at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. And the bioflavonoids found in grape juice have been shown to "reduce platelet aggregation and have been associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease," according to a 2000 study published in The Journal of Nutrition.
Recently a few unusual juices have hit the market and are gaining popularity because of their extremely high antioxidant content.
Pomegranate juice. Relatively new to American consumers, pomegranate juice is becoming popular for its tart and tasty flavor and beautiful bright-red color. Pomegranate juice is also a favorite because it is higher in antioxidants than almost any other beverage, according to a Los Angeles, Calif.-based POM Wonderful spokeswoman. "Pomegranate juice has 17 percent more polyphenol antioxidants than red wine, and 100 percent pomegranate juice neutralizes 54 percent more free radicals than red wine," she says. And pomegranate juice's benefits have been proved in several studies.
A study published in the October 2005 issue of PNAS found that pomegranate juice extract might be effective in the prevention and therapy of prostate cancer. Another study, published in the March 2005 issue of the same journal, found that pomegranate juice could contribute to the reduction of oxidative stress and clogged arteries.
Açaí juice. The açaí berry is found in the Amazon rain forest and has been called a "superfood" for its high antioxidant content. A study published in the February 2005 issue of the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition states, "The antioxidant capacities of all purple açaí samples were found to be excellent against peroxyl radicals."
Several companies are incorporating superpower juices into their blends. Azusa, Calif.-based Naked Juice, recently launched a line of pomegranate and açaí blend juices, which spokeswoman Rachel Kenney says are "creeping into the top of our SKUs."
It's natural for customers to have questions about the benefits of juice. Here are some common ones, and the answers you can provide.
- What makes drinking juice different than taking a multivitamin with some or all of the same compounds?
"Drinking fresh juice that's not from concentrate and has no additives is practically like eating a piece of fruit, and whenever you can get vitamins and minerals from their original source, instead of from a processed pill, those nutrients are going to be more available and easily absorbed by your body," says Wade Groetsch, president of Winter Haven, Fla.-based Blue Lake Citrus.
Odwalla's Hogen agrees. "Multivitamins are insurance, but you should make sure to get your nutrients from your diet as well. Nature designed food to be eaten as a whole for a reason," she says. For instance, a landmark—but controversial—study published in the April 1994 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine tested the premise that diets high in carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer. Researchers found that male smokers who took beta carotene slightly increased their chance of getting lung cancer. "Some nutrients are not meant to be consumed outside of their natural origination," Hogen says. "Consuming whole foods is the best way to absorb and utilize nutrients for your body."
- Isn't juice too high in sugar and low in fiber?
"The sugar in juice is naturally occurring sugar that provides an important source of energy," Hogen says. "Sugar is an inherent property of fruit, and fruit is an important part of eating a varied, colorful diet. There's nothing wrong with it." Furthermore, "with juice, you're getting all the benefits of fruit in the convenience of a bottle, and you're hydrating at the same time," Groetsch says.
For those with lack-of-fiber fears, Barr recommends advising consumers to add a fiber supplement to their juice or smoothies instead of forgoing juice altogether. "We do include the skins of our fruits and vegetables in our juices whenever the formula allows for it, which helps the fiber content. But if consumers are concerned about fiber, all they have to do is add a teaspoon of ground flaxseed to their juice or smoothie and they'll have sufficient fiber plus the added benefit of omega-3 fatty acids," she says.
Keeping your customers informed about their juice options will keep them coming back for more. "Consumer education is key," McLean says. "Make sure to have someone on staff or some literature handy so people can learn about the product."
Another way to clue consumers in to juice's healthfulness, according to Naked Juice's Kenney, is product placement. "We like to have our product placed in the produce section, not in the juice aisle," she says. "That way, consumers begin to associate our juice with whole fruit and all the health advantages that go along with it; they think of it as more than a beverage."
And indeed it is. "Every fruit has something different and unique to offer, and juice is a great way of getting a variety of those benefits into your diet," Hogen says.
Christine Spehar is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 3/p. 86