CHOICE looked at juices that contain aloe vera, echinacea, ginkgo, ginseng, spirulina, barleygrass and/or wheatgrass. There’s very little scientific evidence that these herbal supplements confer any real health benefits.
Other than Morlife Elixir Punch Aloe Klenz, none of the juices comes even close to a full dose of whichever herbal supplement they contain. One serving of Berri Superjuice Immune, for example, gives you only 16% of the recommended daily dose of echinacea, and the same brand’s Kickstart gives you only 3% of the recommended doses of ginseng and ginkgo. You wouldn’t take only 16% of your blood pressure medication, equally there is no reason to expect any benefit from such small amounts of these medicinal herbs. And even these dose levels don’t have the status of recommended daily intakes (RDI) for vitamins, as RDIs are established by health authorities.
Looked at another way, it’s just as well most are at such low levels – after all, they may be “natural” but they’re not necessarily safe. Ginkgo can interfere with other medications such as anticoagulants (blood thinners), while ginseng shouldn’t be consumed during pregnancy and only in small doses if you have high blood pressure. Our food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, considered regulating the use of medicinal herbs in foods, but has abandoned the idea. In CHOICE’s view, their use in all foods should be prohibited unless specific approval is given after appropriate safety assessment.
Many of the juices we tested make bold claims about antioxidants, such as “With the extra goodness of antioxidants which work as one of the body’s defences – helping protect against free radicals”. There’s now strong evidence that fruit and vegetables help protect against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other health problems – and they’re certainly rich in antioxidants. But the presence of antioxidants does not of itself necessarily explain the health benefits. Studies consistently find no evidence that taking antioxidant supplements, such as beta-carotene or the antioxidant vitamins added to these juices, helps prevent cancer or heart disease.
Furthermore, when it comes to antioxidants, fruit juice is a poor substitute for whole fruit. Measurements of antioxidant capacity for a range of fruit and vegetables (raw and processed) carried out by the United States Department of Agriculture consistently found the values for juice to be less than half those for the whole fruit.
Many of these juices make much of the vitamins they contain – in particular, that they contain at least enough vitamin C per serving to meet the recommended daily intake (RDI). But vitamin C is a relatively cheap chemical that’s added to fruit juices (and many other foods) as an antioxidant and preservative (you’ll see it listed in the ingredients as “ascorbic acid, 300”). There’s little point in making a virtue out of a standard food manufacturing practice, so we don’t include vitamin C claims in our table.
The other added vitamins claimed for these juices are A and E. None of the juices, however, gives more than 25% of the RDI per serving as this is the maximum amount manufacturers are allowed to add. While juice can make a useful contribution to your daily vitamin intake, why not get vitamins from foods naturally rich in them? For vitamin A, try eggs and vegetables, especially the orange and yellow ones; for vitamin E, wheatgerm is one of the richest sources, as well as eggs, tuna, avocados and broccoli. And ignore the hype – there’s no scientific evidence that vitamin supplements help prevent cancer or heart disease.
Berri Australian Fresh Omega-3 for Heart and Mind Extra Pulpy Orange claims to have “combined Australia’s finest fruits with ingredients from natural sources to help you boost your daily omega-3 intake”. There’s now good evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of heart disease, and may be good for our brains as well.
Fish, however, is always the best source. The Berri juice is spiked with fish oil but one serving gives you only 50mg of omega-3s – 1% of the amount you’d get from a serving of Atlantic salmon. And a serving of the juice gives men only 8% of the Heart Foundation’s recommended daily dose of omega-3s – a long way short of the “over 30% of your daily needs” claimed on the label. (Women need less, but even then a serving of the juice only delivers 12% of their RDI.) Berri told us that the “30%” refers only to “adequate intake” – not to the recommended daily dose as you might expect from the wording on the label.
Go for 2 & 5
We should all be aiming to eat at least two portions of fruit and five of vegetables each day. And the greater variety you include the better, because different fruits and vegetables contain different nutrients. But no matter how much you drink you cannot count juice as more than one portion a day, because you don’t get the same nutritional benefits from juice as from whole fruit and vegetables. See www.gofor2and5.com.au