You just finished an intense workout at your gym. Your stomach growls, your energy level is low, and you know how important it is to immediately refuel your body post-sweat session, so what do you do? You head to the juice bar, which is conveniently located within your gym. It’s the healthiest option, right?
Opt for whole fruit
In a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2017, researchers examined a number of trendy food fads, including juice, and wrote that “whole food consumption is preferred” over a liquid diet.
Registered dietitian Lauren Manaker agrees.
“Whole fruit is often a better choice than juice because the whole fruit contains fiber and sometimes some nutrients that the juice doesn't offer,” she tells SheKnows. “Some people theorize that drinking the juice versus eating the fruit allows the nutrients to be better absorbed by the body, but as a registered dietitian, I always recommend eating fruit versus drinking the juice.”
Watch the sugar
But what about all those juice bars popping up everywhere over the last few years? While fruit is chock-full of nutrients and fiber, that doesn’t necessarily mean that juice will give you the nutritious boost you think it will.
“People associate fruit with ‘healthy,’ so people often assume by default that fruit drinks are healthy also,” Kathryn Alexander, a certified personal trainer and expert in clinical exercise physiology, tells SheKnows. “They can be. But it's worth considering what else is in them. Are there extra added sugars that are unnecessary? Are there extra calories that sneak in as fat, such as in peanut butter? Fat also isn't bad, but people should be aware of how many calories they are taking in if their goal is weight loss or gain.”
And that's another good point. If you’re trying to get healthier, then hitting up the juice bar is potentially setting you back.
“If a person is seriously cutting calories or sugar, fruit juices might not be worth it,” says Alexander. “Like anything else we consume… it can be easy to have too much if it is delicious. If you are watching your calories, be aware that even healthy calories add to your bottom line. If we consume more than we expend, we will gain weight.”
Consuming too much sugar, whether it is from a natural source like fruit juice or from candy, isn't healthy if consumed in large quantities over a long period of time, Manaker adds.
This is why Manaker prefers her clients to eat a piece of whole fruit instead. “Eating the whole fruit typically allows for better blood sugar control and provides essential fiber for the body. Juice also can lead to a blood sugar spike, which is always not desirable,” she says.
Pay attention to labels
Manaker points out that another risk of consuming juice is drinking something that is “raw” or “unpasteurized.”
“If somebody is at risk (for example, pregnant), they should only be drinking pasteurized juice to avoid exposure to harmful bacteria or other pathogens that may inadvertently be in the juice,” she says.
Both Manaker and Alexander agree that heading to the juice bar isn’t totally a bad thing, but with most things in life, it’s best to heed the advice "everything in moderation."
“There is not a hard yes or no because there are shades of gray,” says Alexander. “Real fruit juice has vitamins and minerals, which can be very healthy for the body. It also has naturally occurring sugar, which again, isn't good or bad. It's just up to the individual to decide if they have had too much sugar for the day or can ingest more.”
Order this instead
While Manaker prefers her clients to eat a piece of fruit instead, she does recommend that if you do hit up the juice bar to choose a smoothie made with Greek yogurt and pieces of whole fruit, including skin “and no added sugars to ensure you are getting fiber and other nutrients that you may lose in the juicing process.”
If somebody is going to opt for juice, Manaker suggests combining it with a snack that contains some fiber, protein and healthy fat. One suggestion would be to pair your juice with a rice cake and a tablespoon of peanut butter to help give you the much-needed nutrients after a workout.
“Your body will use carbs very well during and post-workout, so these are great times to take in carbs and a little bit of protein,” says Alexander, who recommends whole pieces of fruit, cheese sticks or smoothies as post-workout snacks. “What kinds of food sit well in your stomach and how closely to a workout you like to eat are highly individual preferences, so I recommend trying different foods and paying attention to how you feel after.”
She adds, “In fact, some people might find that their regular meal pattern is sufficient and they simply eat their next meal sometime after their workout.”
Ultimately, knowing what works for your body is always best.
“Fruit juices might tip one's caloric intake a little bit too high. Alternatively, they can be added into a healthy exercise program and diet,” says Alexander. “It's worth finding out if this is a good option for you. Remember, you can try it and change if it doesn't work for you.”