The health world is changing – largely for the better. People are starting to think critically about their health.
More and more people are focusing on eating organic food. Science and consumers are constantly uncovering superfoods, their benefits, and a lot of the time, the much-needed flavor they can add to dishes.
But there’s a lead weight dragging this whole system down.
Unscrupulous Supplement Companies
About 68% of people in the United States take a supplement. There is a lot of money to be made in the supplement market and some companies are not above exploiting consumers to turn a quick profit. It’s these companies that give supplements a bad name.
They’re also the ones you need to be on the lookout for if you’re purchasing superfruit juices.
Adding Other Juices
You want noni or pomegranate or acai berry juice because you’ve heard about all the benefits you can get from any of those products.
So you grab a bottle and drink it down. Maybe it tastes amazing, but there’s a noticeable lack of benefits. All your hard-earned money wasted on what amounts to expensive fruit punch because blueberry and pomegranate are less than 1% of the total product.
Many suppliers are guilty of only putting in a small amount of acai juice or whatever superfruit you’re after. If you’re only concerned about the taste of your juice, then there’s no need to worry.
However, if you’re seeking some sort of health benefit from your superfruit juice, the rest of this article can help ensure you’re spending your money wisely.
What You Should Look For
If you’re concerned about your favorite juice, just take a quick peek at the nutrition facts panel (or the supplement facts panel if it’s a supplement). Your desired superfruit should be the first ingredient. If there’s a blend that mentions the superfruit, ensure it’s the first ingredient in the blend.
Be aware that some will still list juice as their first ingredient even though it’s not the most plentiful. It’ll look something like this: Acai juice (water, acai puree). If you see that in the other ingredients section, you know you’re not getting pure juice. Pure juice is similar to fresh-squeezed orange juice.
However, a manufacturer that goes above and beyond will also include as much of the rest of the fruit as possible (seed oil, pulp, exocarp, etc). This way you get the nutrients along the same manner that Nature intended and you’re not just getting the most sugary part.
Manufacturers are required to list the ingredients in descending order by weight or volume (if it’s a liquid). If there are only two ingredients, in juice (water and puree), it tells you that the mixture is over 50% water and that what you’ve really got is a juice made from concentrate.
There’s a reason you see juice marketed as being “not from concentrate.” There are manufacturers out there who will take a juice and heat it until the water evaporates.
It’s done to help preserve the juice so it can last longer. However, the high heat process that’s used generally destroys much of the beneficial enzymes, vitamins, and delicate nutrients you want.
An alternate, more expensive process exists to create concentrates that maintains the vast majority of the nutrients. It utilizes reverse osmosis to pull the water out and leave the concentrate behind. But it’s rarely used.
Turning a juice into concentrate also makes transportation much easier. You’ve got less volume and less weight, so it costs significantly less to ship.
When it gets to its final destination, they just add water to it (one of the cheapest “fillers” around), bottle it up, and sell it to you – sometimes for a lower price, sometimes with the hope you don’t notice its origin.
How to Tell If Your Juice is Made Using a Concentrate
As before, you can’t simply look at the percentage of juice marketed on the label. There’s a prominent juice that markets their blatantly reconstituted vegetable concentrates as 100% juice.
Thankfully, it’s not always difficult to uncover. Sometimes it’s just a matter of reading the label. It will usually say something like I mentioned above [“acai juice (water and puree)” or it’ll say “reconstituted vegetable juice” and will then list “(water and xxxxx concentrated juice)”].
The FDA does not require manufacturers to label if their products are reconstituted, so it’s not always quite that nice. Having “water” and “concentrate” on the label is enough, according to FDA regulations.
Sometimes reconstituted and concentrate are used interchangeably. I’m using them differently here to separate the two. When I use “reconstituted juice”, I’m referring to fruit juice that’s been completely dried out and turned into a powder.
It’s fruit that’s been turned into a powder, has had water added to it, and is then sold to you in bottles.
This kind of process happens all the time, but it’s generally done on the consumer’s end. For instance, any time you take a powder – whether that’s a greens formula or a protein powder – and mix it with water or milk, you’re reconstituting it.
Or, it could be a concentrate that’s had water added to it (like you do with frozen orange juice). The difference, though, is that you’re fully aware of what you’re doing.
The common argument for reconstituted juice and concentrate is that they’re just removing water (temporarily) and adding it back in. But this is not the case – especially with a product like acai.
Acai contains omega fatty acids. In a pure juice product, you can see them floating on top of the liquid. In a reconstituted product, they may not be there at all.
You’ve also got to beware of how the powder is produced. There’s almost an art to it that allows you to keep as much of the fruit’s original nutrients, enzymes, and cofactors as possible.
How Fruit is Turned into Powder
There are currently 3 different ways you can rip out all the water and get powdered fruit.
This is a process where they spray the inside of a heated drum. Picture a clothes dryer. The puree is sprayed on the sides where it’s heated until all the water evaporates. A crust builds up and then the crust is scraped off, packed up, and shipped out.
This is the worst way because it is an incredibly harsh process that can destroy any natural vitamin C and it denatures many of the beneficial phytonutrients and enzymes – if it doesn’t outright eliminate them.
Due to the obvious detriments of this system, some manufacturers turn to an air dry process. It’s done in exactly the same manner, but without the applied heat. However, some of the more fragile phytonutrients are still destroyed when the end product is scraped off the drum and ground up into a powder.
Extracts are a bit better because the process is much gentler. Generally water or another solvent like ethanol or methanol is used to extract a certain component of the juice. Once it’s extracted, it’s placed onto dextrose or maltodextrin.
However, you’ll never be able to get it back to real juice when it’s reconstituted. There will always be a taste associated with it.
For example, decaffeinated coffee used to go through an extraction process that used chloroform. As much as they tried to remove it, the taste of chloroform always remained and had a negative impact on the taste.
Freeze drying exploits one of water’s somewhat unique properties. In the process, the puree is frozen and is then subjected to a vacuum. This causes the water to sublimate – go from solid to gas without ever touching the water phase.
In this manner, you’re able to preserve the vast majority of the nutrients, so it provides a much better product than either of the other methods.
100% Juice Explained
So how is it that they’re able to market their products as 100% juice if they’re reconstituted or made using concentrate?
There’s a scale for that. It’s called the Brix scale. It’s a measurement of how much light bends when passing through a liquid.
You’ve seen it your whole life – how when you put a straw in your drink that it looks like it’s been cut right where it hits the water. It’s caused by a difference in how light refracts in the air vs the water.
There are acceptable minimum levels for every type of juice.
So when juice is reconstituted, as long as too much water isn’t added and the appropriate Brix number is hit, a manufacturer can claim it’s 100% juice. If they’re 7% off, they can claim 93% juice and so forth.
But is it Really 100% Juice?
It’d be spectacular if you could just separate the water from the juice without harming any of the ingredients in the juice, but it’s not practical.
Vitamin C is one of the first ingredients to be affected. It’s why you’ll often see ascorbic acid mentioned right below the Nutrition Facts Panel. Manufacturers need to add it back in to get vitamin C up to acceptable levels.
Vitamin C is a volatile nutrient, so manufacturers could also be attempting to fortify their juice. The problem with vitamin C is that it really loves doing its job. It’s an antioxidant, so when the juice is exposed to air (oxygen), it starts attacking reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Random High Nutrient Levels
This last bit requires you to be a bit more savvy about your juices. You need to know what nutrients your juice should contain and the levels they should be around.
There are companies that will fortify juices with synthetic vitamins and minerals. For instance, if you see a bottle of acai with vitamin K2 or with 200% the RDV (recommended daily value) of vitamin C, you know something is wrong.
However, some companies are a bit sneakier than that. They compensate for nutrients that should be in their juice but are lacking.
For instance, some acai drinks are low in the naturally-occurring omega-3s because either the juice was processed at a high temperature or the process took long enough that they started degrading. Manufacturers know consumers want to see high levels of omegas, so they’ll add some in to get them to the level they want.
So you just check the other ingredients section, right?
I’m afraid it’s not that simple.
Manufacturers are not required to list these vitamins and minerals because they’re already noted in the %DV section of the label.
It’s a lot to remember. So here’s your checklist to figure out if you’ve got 100% pure juice or something that is mostly water.
- Does it say “from concentrate” or “reconstituted”?
- Is the first ingredient water?
- Are there other juices present?
- Is the fruit first in the ingredient list? Especially in the case of blends.
- Are there high or out of place vitamins and minerals?