I’ve have already discussed in my last post regarding peanut butter that people generally like to categorize foods at either simply “good” or “bad” when most of the time, nutrition isn’t as simply as that. One of the prime examples of this is fruit juice and fruit smoothies. Some say that fruit juice is excellent for losing weight due to its high antioxidants and other nutritional properties. Others insist on going on an all-juice “cleanse” every so often to help your digestive system out and sometimes speed up fat loss. Yet, others pronounce fruit juice as pure evil – nothing more than just a truck-load of sugar.
So, what’s the truth about fruit juice? Should it be included in your diet if you are trying to lose weight? For increasing muscle mass? Does consuming it increase general health markers over time? Do different types of fruit juices encourage different results?
Fruit Juice and Weight Loss
If take a moment to refer back to the Hierarchy of Fat Loss, we see that the most important factor for losing weight is decreasing total calories. Thus, it would make sense that if you wanted to lose weight, you should try to make it easy on yourself to keep the calories low. Fruit juice is actually pretty calorie dense. Although it varies by type and brand, even a fairly low-calorie juice like orange juice will have anywhere from 100-150 calories per cup. Some juices like grape juice, for example, can have much more than that.
The problem with including these juices in your weight loss diet is that these calories will not do much at all for your hunger. “Drinking your calories” will make the diet seem harder than it needs to be since you will end up feeling less full by the same amount of calories than if you were to get all of your calories from whole, solid food.
Furthermore, most of the calories in fruit juice comes from sugar. The sugar in fruit and fruit juice is very similar to sucrose, your ordinary table sugar. While there is nothing inherently bad about including this into your diet, adding sugar like this will ultimately just make the diet harder to follow and/or, more likely, encourage you to go over your targeted calories on a daily basis, thus slowing your weight loss results.
When following some diet plan to lose weight, the last thing that most people need is more sugar. If anything, most focus on trying to decrease their sugar consumption since simple sugars do little to tame hunger and are easy to lose track of and over-consume. It is worth noting again that there is nothing inherently “fat-promoting” about sugar in and of itself, it just does not fulfill any useful purpose on a fat-loss diet for the most part.
Therefore, it would be wise to remove all juice from your diet if you are trying to lose weight. This will greatly help with your diet compliance.
On the other hand, I would not remove whole fruit from your diet. Much of the time, many nutrients are stripped away when turning fruit into juice, including the fiber, which helps to alleviate hunger in many cases. While fruit is still mostly sugar, just like the juice, the whole fruit is bulkier and most have a decent amount of fiber, making it more filling and more difficult to over-consume.
For example, most people will find a 100 calorie apple to be much more filling than 100 calories of rice cakes, but 100 calories of apple juice will leave the person almost just as hungry as they were before the juice.
I hope that you can see that there is nothing inherently “bad” about fruit juice and “good” about fruit for weight loss. It is just that, in the context of dieting and relative to the other foods you will consume throughout the day, one tends to make your goals harder to achieve and the other tends to help a bit.
Keep the whole fruits and toss the juice for easier weight loss.
Fruit Juice and Muscle Gain
OK, so fruit juice does not really have a place in a calorie-restricted diet. How about for a calorie surplus for adding muscle?
We have already gone over the basics of fruit juice, so the answer here shouldn’t be much of a surprise: it depends.
It really depends on what kind of eater you are. If you are like me and would probably end up weighing 300 lbs if you never controlled yourself, then fruit juice is probably still not a good idea as you can still over-shoot your targeted calories surplus, which would add more fat than it would muscle.
If you are like my mom, though, and would need to force yourself even to over-consume “junk food”, then fruit juice might be an excellent way to add some extra carbs to your diet if you find you cannot force yourself to eat so much whole food. As I have already noted earlier, sugar in and of itself does not promote fat gain – your total weight gain is relative to everything you eat throughout the day and how much of that is fat depends on the percentage of your calories that came from protein, your lifting program, etc.
In any sense, don’t worry about the sugar. It contains roughly 4 calories per gram, like almost any other carb and studies have shown the GI doesn’t matter in the end, if you happen to be worried about that. If you have trouble eating enough to gain weight, drinking some of your calories might be an appealing option for you. I would just like to point out here that these under-eaters are definitely the minority and most of you would be fine and feel more full by consuming whole foods for your calories.
Types of Juice and Effects on Health Markers
I am not going to go too in depth in this section since I think that for the most part, it is irrelevant. Just eat your fruits and veggies.
I will note here, though, that all of the above applies to almost every kind of juice: from concentrate, not from concentrate, 50% juice, 100% juice, etc. since we have only really detailed one aspect of the juice, the sugar.
The only beverage that might be a tad different is the stuff with like 5% juice and containing like 30 cals per cup. Obviously, you would be safer, calorie-wise, consuming this drink than normal juice but that is up to you.
Regarding health, many people overemphasize the role juice will play with your health and underestimate the role increased fat-mass will have. While juice does not cause fat-gain, as I have discussed above, there tends to be some correlation there since it is easy to push your consumed calories up with. Any health benefits that the daily juice would foster would tend to be less than the negative health effects of gaining fat, and the effects of the juice would be even less if you already had servings of fruit in your diet. Even losing fat from eating Twinkies caused a rise in most health markers.
The point I am trying to make is do not go rationalizing why it is OK for you to have some juice if you are trying to lose weight because you think it is “healthy”; just because something is healthy does not mean you should eat it. Just go for whole fruit and make things easier on yourself.