Along with the rise of juicing came a backlash: Juice can be high in sugar and low in fiber, and could foster an unhealthy relationship with food. But a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry finds that juice may have a unique benefit over whole fruit.
When researchers looked at oranges in different forms, they found that the amounts of vitamin C and carotenoids (yellow and orange pigments associated with reduced cancer risk) were slightly lower in juice form, while flavonoids (potent antioxidants associated with heart health) were significantly lower.
Thing is, when the scientists put each orange variation through a test that simulates digestion, they saw that the carotenoids in pastuerized juice were more easily absorbed than the carotenoids in the fruit slices. (Worth noting: Pasteurized juice had carotenoids that were more easily absorbed than those from freshly squeezed juice.) Flavonoids were five times more easily absorbed in juice form versus fruit form.
Study authors think the heating process in pasteurized juice may play a role, explaining why pasteurized juice and freshly squeezed juice had different absorption rates.
But that doesn't mean you should skip fruit for good. You're still missing out on the fiber found in the skin of fruit, and you're likely consuming more sugar if you're partial to sipping. Plus, many popular juices are unpasteurized, so they may not provide the exact same benefits seen in the study. Still, juicing can be a great source of nutrition for days when you're on the run and there's no time to actually sit and enjoy a well-balanced meal—let alone prepare one. "If you have juice one day, enjoy whole fruits or veggies the next," Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, author of the healthy living blog fANNEtastic food told us in How to Juice for Your Health. And look for juice with less than 20 grams of sugar, she says.