Health Squeeze: We've Got the Juice!

Dec. 3, 2004
Juices and juice beverages are not what you think. True, they’re delicious, refreshing and thirst-quenching. But Americans are enjoying juices in ways unimagined even a few short years ago.
Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of CitrusBy David Feder, R.D., EditorWhere we once looked at fruit juice as a beverage, a shift in consciousness based on clever, forward-thinking manufacturers put juice at the center of sustenance. In short, juice drinks are our culture’s newest form of fast food. This liquid nutrition revolution arose from the confluence of a number of influences and needs that began with just trying to help consumers — especially kids — meet their calcium requirements. As milk consumption fell in the 1980s, causing a worrisome decrease in calcium intake in the American diet, orange juice companies took up the slack with calcium-fortified juices. Then, other nutrient needs — folate, for example — were recognized so juices were fortified with more vitamins and minerals.Smoothie MoveThe dairy industry saw the need to get back into the act and, along with a well-recognized (despite the mustache) public relations campaign for its core product, created milk beverages: milk dressed up with flavors and fortifications. Finally, rather than wage war with juice producers, the two sides joined forces. A marriage of dairy and fruit juice was made and the smoothie in a bottle was born.Smoothies, the hippie health drinks of the 1960s and ‘70s, are really the closing of a circle that began as a fast and flavorful healthy blend of fruit, juice and yogurt available on a made-per-order basis in restaurants or at home. The current, prepared-smoothie boom came in time to take advantage of a paradigm shift engendered by liquid meal replacements shifting their focus from the hospital to the healthy mainstream. (This shift came in the form of intense, and sometimes controversial, marketing to the victims of the busy lifestyle — see "Regulatory Issues: Meal Replacements — Convenience or Compromise?", elsewhere on this website.)
Odwalla, a division of Coca-Cola, offers pure juices (such as Carrot Juice, right), fortified blends (like C Monster, center) and fortified smoothies (e.g. Mango Tango, left). Photo courtesy of Coca-Cola.
Ready-to-go, protein and vitamin-dressed beverages were an inevitable result of American health-consciousness and desire to counter the effects of typical high-stress, on-the-go, weight-conscious lifestyle. As Boomers and Gen-Xers become more concerned about nutrition, beverage manufacturers are working overtime to introduce products including more vitamins (such as folate for heart health), minerals (such as potassium for stamina) and phytochemicals (such as soy isoflavones to counter effects of menopause and protect against cancer) to fill the bill.One look at the beverage section of any supermarket will tell you success has been overwhelming. Soy-enhanced beverages alone are one of the fastest-growing segments in the functional beverages industry, according to several sources. Sales of this niche topped $600 million last year, an amount predicted to triple by the end of the decade.With full-meal nutrition in a bottle there for the taking, consumers responded by drinking more calories across the board in the form of flavored beverages, juices and other liquid foods. This is not necessarily a bad thing. When you compare what we were substituting for meals a decade ago to today, fruit juices, fortified fruit juices and fruit juice-based beverages and smoothies are an example of Americans doing things right for a change.By seeking nourishment providing both satisfaction and health benefits, we eat fewer empty calories. “These kinds of sports and health drinks — so-called functional beverages — are a convenient, easy solution for consumers because of the portability and the premeasured nature — you know the exact amounts of the health-promoting ingredient you’re getting,” says Pam Stauffer, marketing manager of Cargill Health and Food Technologies in Minneapolis.The Good, The Bad and The JuicyIn some ways, the growing market for nutrition-in-a-bottle can be a double-edged sword for the juice industry. "Orange juice sales have been on the decline," says Nicole LeBeau, global marketing communications manager for the Florida Department of Citrus. "It was possibly due to the low-carb craze, but also there are hundreds of new competing beverages entering the market yearly." LeBeau worries that with all the new juice and juice-type products flooding the market, consumers may need to be more watchful when it comes to getting the health benefits they seek from a beverage."There are just a lot of options out there," she says." In fact, there may be too many. We know from consumer research that people are confused. Our approach is to remind people of the natural vitamins and minerals in real juice. It’s important for consumers to be sure they're choosing a 100-percent juice product. Sure, other nutrients can be added, but it's important that they're added to pure juice.”“Health and wellness beverages are clearly a trend,” agrees Ray Crockett, spokesman for Minute Maid parent company, Coca-Cola, Atlanta. “Consumers are looking for personalized products to meet their specific needs, such as our HeartWise orange juice. It contains plant sterols and is the only brand of orange juice allowed to carry a label touting its clinically proven abilities to help lower cholesterol.” HeartWise was released late last year and, according to Crockett, became one of the company’s top 10 sellers within a year.
Nutrition experts agree that children are taking in too many of their daily calories in liquid form, but that simply means children should drink fruit juice in moderation.  Photo courtesy of Minute Maid/Coca-Cola.
The 64-Gallon QuestionThere are some aspects of the beverage revolution consumers need to be aware of. Children are drinking too many of their daily calories in liquid form. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), Americans drink about 10 gallons of juice alone per person per year. Add milk, carbonated beverages and flavored coffees and teas and, according to some estimates, our beverage intake is over 50 billion gallons daily. It would seem we’re always sipping something throughout the day."About 25 percent of our daily calories are coming from beverages," notes Richard Mattes, Ph.D., R.D., professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. “From an evolutionary point of view, after weaning, human beings used to receive few or none of their calories from liquids.”In a landmark study published in the International Journal of Obesity (June, 2000 v. 24 (6), p. 794), Mattes discovered that when subjects consumed calories from liquids they tended to intake more overall calories in amounts that were around the same as the drinks themselves. In other words, our bodies do not “count” calories taken as liquids the same as solid calories.This does not mean people should avoid beverages. In fact, if a nutrient-packed beverage is substituting for an unhealthy snack or meal, it’s obviously the better way to go.“The message,” says Mattes, “is you can continue to consume caloric beverages but you should make a conscious effort to adjust your caloric intake to offset the calories you get in liquids because beverages simply don’t elicit a strong satiety signal.”

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