How to Choose the Healthiest Juices for You
What are the best healthy juices to buy? And how can you tell whether a store-bought juice is healthy, or not? After spending a lot of time deciphering nutrition labels, I’ve discovered a few key things to look for when choosing the healthiest juices at the grocery store. And it all starts with getting clear on what “healthy” means to YOU.
Are juices actually healthy?
Store-bought or homemade juices made with 100% fruits & vegetables contain many of the same nutrients found in those foods—like vitamins, minerals, & plant compounds. But during the juicing process, we lose some of those nutrients & most of the fiber. So even the healthiest juices aren’t as nutritious as eating whole fruits and veggies. (Or even drinking a fiber-rich smoothie.)
There are also other variables to consider with store-bought juices. Some contain added sugars or preservatives, and heat during processing or pasteurization can reduce their overall nutrient content. Plus, some juice’s ingredients lists are just plain deceiving! So, how do you know how to choose healthy juices that can actually offer what you’re looking for?
#1 What does “healthy” mean, anyway?
Picking the best store-bought juices starts with knowing what you’re looking for. “Healthy” is a subjective, arbitrary term—so what does “healthy” mean to you? For some people, it might mean lower calories & less sugar. For others, it might mean simpler ingredients, no additives, or more vitamins & minerals. And for some, it might mean lower cost, more convenience, more flavor, or less stress.
What’s “healthy” for you is about more than just nutrition facts. Our relationship to food, our thoughts & emotions, our stress levels—all of these interact with & influence our health. And in my own experience & in working with others, I’ve found that reducing our stress is the most important component of living healthier lives. So, I encourage you to explore what ‘healthy’ means for you, and to lighten up on yourself as you choose the healthiest juices for your needs.
#2 Check the serving size.
On the nutrition label, check out the serving size first. Some juices contain 2 or 2.5 servings per 16-oz bottle—which means you need to multiply the calories, sugar, etc. by the number of servings to get the total amount in the bottle. So, if a bottle lists 25g total sugars, but the bottle contains 2 servings, the entire bottle actually has 50g total sugars. This can be important to be aware of if you’re looking for lower-calorie or low-sugar juices.
#3 Look for added sugars.
Added sugars aren’t “bad” by any means—they make many juices more palatable & delicious! But they can also disrupt our blood sugar balance & reduce the overall nutrient density in a juice, which may not align with your intentions. If you’re choosing a juice as a source of drinkable nutrients—rather than a sweet & tasty beverage—look for an option with no added sugars on the nutrition panel.
#4 Check out the total sugars, too.
Even if there are no added sugars, some store-bought juices can contain 50-70g of total sugars (or more) per bottle. Yes, natural sugars from fruits are different from refined or added sugars. But when they’re stripped of the fiber, enzymes, & other nutrients found in whole fruits (as they are during the juicing process), those natural sugars can become harder for our bodies to process and metabolize. So it’s something to be mindful of if blood sugar balance is a concern for you.
#5 Scan the ingredients for “juice concentrates.”
If a juice is high in total sugars, look for “juice concentrate” and/or “juice from concentrate” in the ingredients lists. Many brands have realized people don’t want to buy juices with added sugars now, so they’ve removed the added sugars and put “no added sugars” on the front of their bottles. But, many are still sweetened with concentrated fruit sugars.
Fruit juice concentrates are juices that have been heated & reduced into a super-concentrated form—with more sugar per gram & fewer nutrients left after processing. A juice concentrate isn’t technically added sugar, but it is a far more concentrated form of sugar than the sugars found in whole fruits or fruit purees. So, juices made with juice concentrates can be more disruptive to our blood sugar, and they’re often less nutrient-rich—but they’ll likely be sweeter and tastier!
#6 Look out for other additives.
In addition to juice concentrates, some store-bought juices contain additives like preservatives, thickeners, stabilizers, and/or “natural flavors.” These ingredients aren’t inherently harmful or problematic, but they are food additives rather than whole fruits or vegetables. So if drinking an additive-free juice is important to you, these are items to look for in the ingredients list.
#7 Seemingly healthy juices can have deceiving ingredients.
Beyond additives, many seemingly healthy juices have ingredients lists (& packaging) that can be deceiving & require some deciphering. Keep in mind: nutrition labels list ingredients in order by weight—so the first ingredients make up the bulk of a juice, and the last ingredients are least present in a juice. So, if you’re choosing a green juice because you want a boost of leafy green nutrients, make sure that leafy greens are among the first few ingredients on the bottle.
Here’s an example: Bolthouse Farms Green Goodness Juice, which sounds nutritious & even has spinach leaves pictured on the bottle. But the first 3 ingredients are pineapple juice, apple juice, mango puree—all from concentrate. And it only “contains 2% or less” of spinach, broccoli, barley grass, wheatgrass, & Jerusalem artichoke. Plus, it uses green tea & spirulina (an algae with a potent green color) to make the juice look greener! Again, this doesn’t mean this is a “bad” juice, but it’s important to read the ingredients list carefully if you’re looking for certain nutrients.
#8 Choose cold-pressed juices for the highest nutrient content.
Many store-bought juices are made in centrifugal juicers—which involve super-fast blades that generate some heat. And most are also pasteurized (a.k.a. heated) to kill off harmful bacteria & extend the shelf life. This kind of heat during processing can damage certain nutrients, resulting in a less nutrient-dense juice. “Cold-pressed” juices are made without heat—using a slow pulverizer & a hydraulic press. So they retain more nutrients, but they have a shorter shelf-life.
So, if the healthiest juices for you are ones with the highest-possible nutrient content, choose cold-pressed. Or, try making your own naturally cold-pressed juice at home (even without a juicer!) like my mango juice or green juice in a blender. Still, even non-cold-pressed juices do offer many nutrients—often in a more accessible form. So, if the healthiest juices for you are lower-cost & will last longer in your fridge, look for pasteurized juices that suit your needs.
#9 Remember your intention in choosing the healthiest juice for you.
Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for how to choose healthy juices at the grocery store. Whether you’re looking for the best store-bought juices to provide certain nutrients, that offer hydration in a tasty form, or that are the most cost-friendly & convenient—you are the best person to decide what healthy looks like for you.
But, even if you’re drinking the absolute healthiest juices for your needs, fruit and vegetable juices are not meal replacements. Juices cannot substitute for eating whole fruits & vegetables. And juices are not meant for dieting, ‘detoxes,’ or ‘cleanses. What juices can offer are convenient sources of certain nutrients—particularly from foods we don’t normally eat—flavorful sources of hydration, and sources of sippable enjoyment.
You don’t need to drink juices to be healthy, but juices can be a part of your healthy lifestyle if you enjoy them. So lighten up on yourself, let go of any self-judgment, and trust yourself to choose the best juices for your needs!