We’re constantly being advised to eat more fruits and vegetables, and with good reason: fruits and veggies are packed with nutrients that we need to stay healthy and ward off certain diseases, such as heart disease and some types of cancer.
Yet, health authorities recommend that we aim for five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. While it can seem easier to fit veggies into your eating plan, thanks to their lower calorie and carbohydrate content, fruit can be a bit more challenging. Grabbing a glass of fruit juice while you head out the door seems easy and practical, not to mention cost-effective. On the other hand, if you have diabetes, juice is generally considered a “no-no” — unless you have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). But is fruit juice really all that bad? Are there some juices that are better than others? Let’s take a look.
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Fruit vs. fruit juice
People who have diabetes are usually advised to avoid (or at least limit) beverages that contain sugar, such as regular soda, fruit juice, sweetened tea or coffee, and energy or sports drinks. Sweetened drinks are digested very quickly and therefore can raise blood sugar levels very quickly — hence the advice to save the juice for when blood sugar levels go too low.
Fresh fruit, on the other hand, contains fiber. The more fiber, the more filling that food will be. Plus, you have to chew fruit, whereas it’s easy to gulp down a glass of juice. The combination of fiber and chewing means that fruit is digested more slowly than fruit juice and less likely to spike your blood sugar too high. Yes, fruit can raise blood sugar, but usually not as quickly as juice. Fresh fruit has a lower glycemic index than fruit juice, meaning that it has less of an impact on your blood sugar. (Of course, you still have to watch your portions).
Carb gram for carb gram, a serving of fruit has about the same amount of carbohydrate as a serving of fruit juice. Here’s an example:
- 1 small orange and 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of orange juice each contain 15 grams of carbohydrate
So, yes, if you’re counting carb grams, you can decide to eat that orange or drink the orange juice. Realize, however, that 1/2 cup of OJ isn’t all that much, whereas an orange is more satisfying (and contains beneficial fiber). Pouring yourself an 8-ounce glass of juice (a more realistic portion size for many people, as well as a typical serving size on a juice container) will give you almost 30 grams of carb, depending on the juice.
100% fruit juice vs. juice cocktail, beverage, or drink
You might wonder about “100% fruit juice.” Is this a good choice if you have diabetes? Somewhat. The Food and Drug Administration says that any product that claims to contain 100% fruit juice must actually contain 100% fruit juice. However, the juice doesn’t necessarily have to come from just one fruit. The juice may consist of a blend of various fruits and even some vegetables, too. From a diabetes standpoint, though, 100% fruit juice doesn’t mean that it contains less carb.
Fruit juice cocktails, beverages, or drinks are NOT 100% fruit juice. They may look and even taste like 100% juice, but they contain added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup for extra sweetness. Some juice blends or cocktails contain a surprisingly low amount of actual fruit juice, too.
Carb-wise, 100% juice and a juice blend or cocktail often have the same amount of calories and carbs. To illustrate this, let’s compare two versions of Ocean Spray cranberry juice:
Ocean Spray 100% Cranberry Juice, 8 ounces
- 100 calories
- 29 grams carb
- 23 grams sugar
- 0 grams added sugars
Ingredients include cranberry juice, grape juice, apple juice, and pear juice.
Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail, 8 ounces
- 110 calories
- 28 grams carb
- 25 grams sugar
Ingredients include cranberry juice and sugar.
Ounce for ounce, these two juices contain pretty much the same amount of calories and carbs. Note that the 100% juice version contains other fruit juices (allowable by the FDA) to help provide some sweetness to the juice, since cranberries are quite tart. Both juices contain added vitamin C, too (but that has no bearing on your blood sugars). While you might prefer the 100% version because it doesn’t contain any added sugar, the effect on your blood sugar won’t be appreciably any less.
“Light” fruit juice
If you love your fruit juice and can’t bear giving it up or limiting yourself to a paltry 4 ounces, there’s another option: “light” fruit juice. Sometimes called low-calorie fruit juice, light fruit juice contains fewer calories than the regular version of the juice.
Here’s a comparison of Simply Orange juices, regular and light versions:
Simply Orange Regular, 8 ounces
- 110 calories
- 25 grams carb
- 22 grams sugar
- 0 grams added sugars
Ingredients are 100% pasteurized orange juice.
Simply Orange Light, 8 ounces
- 50 calories
- 12 grams carb
- 11 grams sugar
- 0 grams added sugars
Ingredients include orange juice (42%), vitamin C, natural flavors, and stevia leaf extract.
The light juice, then, has half the calories and carbs as the regular version. This juice can be a good option for juice lovers, but realize that it contains stevia leaf extract, a noncaloric, nonnutritive sweetener.
When it comes to fruit juice, you have choices. If you decide to stick with your freshly squeezed, 100% juice, watch your portion, and include the juice as part of your meal to lessen its glycemic impact. Trying a light juice can be a good option if you’re looking for volume and don’t mind the addition of a nonnutritive sweeteners.
Here are some other tips to consider:
- Try diluting your juice with water or seltzer water to cut the calories and carbs.
- If it’s a bit of flavor that you crave, infuse a pitcher of water with orange, lemon, or lime slices for a virtually calorie- and carb-free drink.
- Switch to a vegetable juice, which, in general, is considerably lower in calories and carbs. You can “juice” your own veggies or try a ready-made lower-sodium vegetable or tomato juice.