Uncovering Juice Imposters: A Food Scientist’s Viewpoint

Six years ago the thought of drinking a green juice for pleasure was completely foreign to me, and quite frankly something I could barely drink unless it was mostly made of apple juice. What happened in these past six years? For one thing, HPP juices happened: whereas traditional juices were simply pasteurized (thermally processed), HPP juices are high pressure processed using cold water.

As a food scientist working with such companies as Suja and WTRMLN WTR, I work with HPP on a daily basis. Part of the occupational hazard of working with cold pressed juice companies is feeling obligated to try their products—eventually, I started to like them. Actually, I would go so as to say that I crave green juice on a daily basis. And it’s easy to get every day, too, but with a blessing comes a curse. With so many juices on the market, the problem now is deciphering which are actually healthy and which are just essentially cooked fruit soup with little to no nutrition value.

HOW YOUR JUICE IS PROCESSED MATTERS—A LOT

One way to understand the difference between actual healthy juice and fruit soup is understanding the processing behind the juice. There is pasteurized juice and juice that has undergone HPP. HPP juice has the clear ability to provide a nutritionally superior juice blend made from fresh fruits and/or vegetables because the use of cold water pressure does not destroy the nutrient content (which the heating in pasteurization does). This is scientifically supported by a number of studies, and as a molecular biologist, I definitely do my homework before making such statements. Now, I get excited that we can walk into the store and pick up a juice that will actually be functional and serve a nutritional purpose for our health. You can too, as most companies using HPP will state this on the bottle. Additionally, you can be your own investigator and look for words like ‘flash pasteurization’ on the bottle or ‘concentrate’ in the ingredients as both of these processes use heat pasteurization.

UNDERSTANDING FUNCTIONAL GLUCOSE

I like to refer to the sugar in a cold pressed, HPP juice as ‘functional glucose’. If I am going to consume sugars from fruit juices, I prefer that sugar come from a source that also still provides the nutrients, and this is something a pasteurized juice can no longer provide. Our bodies function on carbohydrates and all carbohydrates will be broken down into the simplest form—glucose (i.e. sugar). Wouldn’t you want to consume your glucose with nutrients at the same time? Not even fortified bread (which is made of starch that our bodies will break down into sugar) can offer as much nutrition as a cold pressed juice. When you look at it from this perspective, it makes you rethink the sugar found in a cold pressed, HPP juice over a pasteurized juice. If that’s not enough, consider the potential glycemic difference between heat treated and HPP juice. It’s well known that cooked sugars and starches (like in pasteurized juice and breads) have a higher glycemic index than in the ‘raw’ (uncooked) state. This makes me wonder: what other misunderstandings has pasteurized juice created?

THE REFRIGERATOR DECEPTION

Another tactic used to create misconception is product placement. Just because a product is sold in the fridge does not make it a premium or high quality product. Store placement is a strategy in marketing, and actually not all juice needs to be refrigerated. Yet companies pay big dollars to have reserved, refrigerated shelf space just for them to give the illusion that it’s fresher or healthier. There are many product categories where this happens, especially in the ‘grab-n-go’ or ‘Ready-To-Eat’ categories.

YOU GET WHAY YOU PAY FOR

But wait, that HPP juice costs three times the amount of the pasteurized version? Now the question enters the consumer’s mind: Is that cold pressed, HPP juice really better for me and worth the cost? With my scientific lenses on I can answer ‘yes’ to that question. Because even though both versions potentially have the same ingredients, the cold-pressed HPP juice still retains the nutritional benefits. The pasteurized version does not.

I explain the price of a juice as an investment in one’s health, but this answer is still not enough to majority of consumers to justify the cost of a cold-pressed juice. The part that frustrates me is that if it were not for pasteurized juices that use cheaper ingredients than cold-pressed juices, the consumer would not view a cold-pressed juice as ‘expensive’. Consumers should look at this price difference and rather than ask why is the cold-pressed juice more expensive?, they should ask the question why is this pasteurized juice so cheap?

We have all shopped the produce aisle and we all know that fresh fruit and veggies are not cheap, so why would we expect a juice to be any different? Major food manufacturers have large purchasing capabilities that they can leverage to have better pricing, but they also use that power to blend inferior ingredients with the premium ingredients to make an average product, while also spending significant amounts on marketing to make the product appear premium, when in fact it is not.

AN ACQUIRED TASTE: JUICE ISN’T ALWAYS WHAT YOU THINK

So why was it so difficult for me to like the taste of green juice six years ago? The answer to this is the same one I give people when they ask me today ‘how can I drink that green juice?’, which is they need to ‘retrain’ their taste buds just as I did. A very small percentage of North Americans are raised on drinking green juice. We were raised on pasteurized fruit juice so our taste buds crave these flavor profiles. Pasteurized juice has raised generations of North Americans thinking that all juice needs to be mainly fruit-based. What is even scarier to think about is that between the pasteurized juice companies and the government, we have also been raised to believe that all fruit juice is created equal, when in fact there are regulations such as 12 standards of identity for orange juice according to the FDA. Which means that what we think of as orange juice in the store has to fall into one of those 12 standards, or in other words, orange juice is not just simply juice from pressed oranges.

Fresh-pressed fruits and vegetables is what the definition of juice should be. Period. Blends of fresh-pressed fruits and vegetables is what juice should taste like, and should provide the nutrition of unheated juice. This is what a cold-pressed, HPP juice from fruits and vegetables delivers; and this is not what will be in the bottle of a pasteurized juice.

GET SMART: IDENTIFY THE NUTRITIONAL IMPOSTER

HPP juices are suffering a price war simply because consumers don’t understand the difference between the quality product—and those of the ‘nutritional imposter’—the pasteurized juices. I used to be one of those un-informed consumers making un-informed buying choices persuaded by marketing geniuses. Being an informed consumer involves asking questions. Pricing is a good question to start with because there is usually a good reason for price differences. Price can be an indicator of the quality of the product or the scale of the company, as we have seen in the juice category.

We the consumer need to stop this from continuing to happen. We all need to become informed consumers and shop with an arsenal of education about the ingredients and process’ companies use to manufacture food. We are the ones with all of the buying power. The next time you walk into a grocery store, execute your power and use social media to share your informed purchase with others. It is our turn to control the products we see in the grocery store and not companies controlling what is coming into our homes.

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We also love whole-food green smoothies: here’s a great recipe.
Joyce Longfield contributed to research in our recent ingestible collagen story!

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