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What's In Your Glass?

Who doesn't enjoy a tall, cool glass of juice? The color is vibrant, the taste sweet, and it's good for you, too. Not so fast, say some dietitians. Although the best kinds of juice give you some nutrients, the worst are hardly better than liquid candy. You just need to know the difference.

Best Choice: Vegetable Juice

Drinking your veggies is convenient and good for you. The lycopene in tomato juice may help lower the risk of prostate cancer. Beet juice may help curb blood pressure. Pulpy vegetable juice has some fiber (but not as much as raw vegetables); and fiber cuts hunger. You also get far less sugar and fewer calories than in the typical fruit juice. Check the sodium, though, or choose a low-salt version.

Worst Choice: Juice 'Cocktails'

Be on alert for the terms juice cocktail, juice-flavored beverage, and juice drink. Most of these products have only small amounts of real juice. Their main ingredients are usually water, small amounts of juice, and some type of sweetener, such as high-fructose corn syrup. Nutritionally, these drinks are similar to most soft drinks: rich in sugar and calories, but low in nutrients. Water is a better choice.

The 100% Fruit Juice Dilemma

What about pure fruit juice with no added sweeteners? It's true that 100% fruit juice is a good source of nutrients like vitamin C and potassium. The problem is that too much juice can be an extra source of sugar and calories. Juice also doesn't contain the same fiber and phytonutrients that raw fruits have. That's why many experts recommend sticking to one juice serving per day.

Good Choice: Pomegranate Juice

If you're only going to drink one glass of juice each day, you want to make it a good one. So get to know which juices offer the biggest nutritional payoff per sip. Pomegranate juice tops the list. It's high in sugar and calories, but gives you a lot of good-for-you nutrients called antioxidants. In fact, pomegranate juice's antioxidant power is greater than red wine or green tea.

Good Choice: Cranberry Juice

Cranberry juice is packed with vitamin C, which your immune system needs. Drinking unsweetened cranberry juice may also help prevent the buildup of bacteria that cause urinary tract infections.

Good Choice: Acai Berry Juice

Acai juice is made from a berry found in South America. Acai pulp appears to have a higher concentration of antioxidants than cranberries, blackberries, strawberries, or blueberries.

Good Choice: Red Grape Juice

You've probably heard that red wine, in moderation, can be good for the heart. The same is true of red grape juice. Red grape juice has flavonoids and resveratrol. The key is that red wine and juice are made with the entire grape: seeds, skin, and all. But you're not getting the fiber that you would from the fruit itself.

Good Choice: Prune Juice

People have long used prune juice to relieve constipation. It works because it's a good source of fiber and contains a natural laxative called sorbitol. But the benefits of prune juice don't stop there. The juice is also packed with antioxidants, iron, and potassium.

What About Orange Juice?

The good news is orange juice is loaded with vitamin C. Some brands are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which are good for your bones. Unsweetened orange juice has fewer calories than some berry juices or grape juice. The trade-off is that it also has fewer antioxidants than darker juices like grape, blueberry, and pomegranate.

Kids and Juice

Most children love juice, but don't give them too much. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 4 to 6 ounces of 100% fruit juice per day for kids younger than 6, and 8-12 ounces for ages 7 to 18.

Water It Down

If you or your kids crave more than a single cup of juice per day, water it down. By mixing water or sparkling water with juice, you slash the calories in every serving. Instead of drinking one glass of pure juice, you can enjoy 2 or 3 cups of the water-juice mixture throughout the day.

Go for Whole Fruit

Dietitians say a great alternative to drinking a lot of fruit juice is to eat the whole fruit. You'll get all the nutrients that are in the fruit's flesh and pulp, and the fiber will help you feel full and tame your hunger.

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Reviewed by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on May 09, 2014