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Juice: Wellness booster or diet disaster?

Juice seems like nature’s perfect food. A 1/2-cup serving of 100 percent orange juice gives you a healthy dose of disease-fighting vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate, potassium and thiamin, for a mere 50 calories.

So if some is good, more is better, right? Nutritionists say no—as with most foods, portion control is key. Downing juice throughout the day can add hundreds more calories than your body needs, leading to unwanted pounds. And people with diabetes or pre-diabetes who need to monitor carbohydrate intake need to be careful about how much juice they drink.

Still, eating fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of cancer and helps you maintain good health. Adults need between five and nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Real juice—fresh or made from concentrate—counts toward those servings. But since juice lacks the fiber found in whole fruits, the U.S. government’s recently updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises people to instead reach for fruit more often. Try to keep juice intake to one serving, or 1/2 cup, a day.

If you have young ones, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests they drink only moderate amounts of fruit juice (4 to 6 ounces for children ages 1 to 6; 8 to 12 ounces for ages 7 to 18) each day. More juice than that can cause diarrhea, weight gain and tooth decay.

Smart sipping

Keep these tips in mind when you’re reaching for juice:

  • Not all juices are created equal, so read labels. Look for 100 percent juice for the greatest nutritional benefit. Fruit drinks and cocktails often contain added sugars and may lack nutrients.
  • Consider your budget, preparation time and the taste you prefer when debating between frozen or canned juice or squeezing your own. Frozen, canned and bottled juices are often processed shortly after harvesting and may contain as many nutrients as fresh juices (which can lose nutrients if they aren’t consumed quickly). Plus, frozen juice concentrates are easily stored and within easy reach when you need them.
  • Try calcium- or folate-fortified beverages—but only if you’re short on these nutrients.
  • Consider low-sodium varieties of canned or bottled vegetable juices to cut back on your sodium intake.
  • Dilute juice with seltzer, sparkling water or plain water for a refreshing, low-calorie summer quencher.
  • Reach for pasteurized juice (about 98 percent of the juice sold in this country), which contains no harmful bacteria. Some farm-stand ciders are unpasteurized and can make you sick.
  • Enjoy juice after sports or workouts, since your body needs to replace the carbohydrates and fluids you’ve lost.

Think of juice as a supplement to a healthy, fiber-rich diet and enjoy it wisely.