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Well Being: Think before you drink

While fruit juices sold in attractive bottles, cans or tetra packs seem to be the quickest way to beat the heat, experts say they may be actually doing more harm than good. It’s time to revisit your thirst choice.

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Although fresh fruit juices seem to be a healthier alternative than packaged fruit juices that are flavoured, they still lack fibre and cannot be replaced with the magic of having real and whole fruits.

Do you remember an old television advertisement that showed an animated sun ‘sucking up’ all the energy through straws from an exhausted kid and his friends playing a game of cricket in the heat? Enter an energy drink, which the child’s mother offers to him, and he gleefully gulps it down and seems to become ‘active’ and ‘energetic’ once again.

If you’re a regular on TV, you would have come across another popular commercial of a mango drink in which the juices drip from the fruit’s pulp, making the audience drool. Then, there are the advertisements for soft drinks that claim them to be the ultimate chillers in summers. With ice cubes falling into the drink and popular actors gulping them down in a sip, bottoms up, the audience is left with no other imagination but to think of these beverages as the ultimate way to beat the scorching heat.

However, not all is refreshing. There is an ongoing debate in the Supreme Court to decide whether popular summer drink Nimbooz is a lemonade or fruit-based drink. While Dabur’s Real fruit juices claim that they have ‘no added preservatives’ and call themselves ‘fruit beverages’, much like Pepsi’s Tropicana, ITC’s B Natural juices claim to have the goodness of fibre. There is also a range of natural, organic and herbal cold-pressed fruit juices available in the market.

So, are packaged fruit juices that claim to be natural the healthiest way to survive the summers? The answer is a plain ‘no’. Have the successful TV commercials gotten to us too much? Perhaps, yes. While packaged fruit juice is a flavoured and sweetened drink to match the taste of the fruit, soft drink is an aerated and sweetened beverage, harming the body in uncountable ways.

Dr Siddhant Bhargava, fitness and nutritional scientist and co-founder of food and nutrition company Food Darzee, says that all packaged juices harm us. “In the hot summer days, instead of quenching our thirst with water, we tend to reach for beverages like juices and sodas, which are highly sugared and empty-calorie drinks. It could be a result of misleading marketing and advertisement that make consumers falsely believe that packed juices with packaging covered in fruit images contain significant amounts of fruit and are healthy as they claim to be. But this is not the case.”

Dr Bhargava says this causes weight gain and puts one at a higher risk of diabetes. “They also contain ingredients like phosphoric acid and high fructose corn syrup that may lead to severe health issues like heart disease or cancer,” he warns.

However, there has been a change in the way we hydrate in summers post Covid. In a time of kadhas, a shift from aerated drinks to fruit juices has been observed.  Market research store ResearchAndMarkets.com’s April 2022 report titled ‘India Juice Market Outlook, 2027,’ states that “the fruit drinks showcased a dominating share of 66% in 2021 but the increasing awareness about the deteriorating health due to such drinks is expected to decline the market in the coming five years”.

According to the report, the juice market is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 11% by the end of the forecast period of 2027. It further says that the mango flavoured juices have the highest consumption in the Indian market. The shift from fruit drinks to the fruit juice segment due to increased health consciousness is already being seen and the consumption is expected to grow in the coming years, it says.

Dr Anant Pandhare, medical director, Dr Hedgewar Hospital, makes a case for fresh fruit juices vis-a-vis those claiming to be real. “One must make sure that juices are fresh and not packaged to last for six months. People tend to fall for packaged juices majorly for their attractive packaging with pictures of fresh fruits. They are not freshly squeezed and are high in fructose content with corn syrup making up for the sugar. These are low-quality sugars that our bodies are not meant to handle,” he explains.

Not without the fibre

Although fresh fruit juices seem to be a healthier alternative than packaged fruit juices that are flavoured, they still lack fibre and cannot be replaced with the magic of having real and whole fruits.

Payal Kothari, an integrative nutritionist, gut health coach, founder of GutAvatar (wellness products) and INUEN (nutrition coaching school), and author of The Gut: Story of our Incredible Second Brain, says that though drinking a fruit juice is way better than having a fizzy drink but the benefits of eating a fruit cannot be outweighed. “Drinking juices regularly will spike your blood sugar levels and make your blood sugar graph go too high and then plummet. Eating a fruit is way beneficial to the gut microbes and won’t give any side effects,” she says.

Kothari also advises against the roadside fruit juice vendor that finds its customer base queuing in summers. The fruit juice vendor is a popular breaking place for office colleagues and students. Strategically, they are located in residential areas, near offices and colleges to draw the crowds. However, what might seem like a healthy drink and an alternative to soft drinks can also prove to be unhygienic and devoid of nutrition. Avoid them unless the heat is getting to you—then a juice may help cool the body, she adds. She suggests building habits to avoid sugar bombs impacting body and weight gain. The so-called energy drinks should also be avoided as they have excess sodium and are more toxic than giving any nutrients to the body.

This is the reason why, Dr Khushboo Thakker Garodia, homeopath, trichologist, nutrition and stress management expert, recalls that while growing up parents and grandparents never let us eat fruits that were cut and kept for a while and there was valid scientific reason behind it. “Fruits are a storehouse of antioxidants and as long as they are within a peel and in their full form the antioxidants are contained inside. As soon as we peel and cut them—the antioxidants are lost as they combine with the oxygen in the air.  That is why when we eat a fruit as whole the antioxidants oxidise inside the body and not outside. Juicing of fruits (no matter how fresh the fruit, or how expensive your juicer or blender is) robs of all the vitamins and minerals. And even if you add the fibre back to your juice, you have broken its structure and lost the antioxidants in the process. You are now actually drinking a high sugar-coloured water which has lost its nutrients,” she adds.

The alternatives

According to experts, the best way to consume a fruit is to take a bite and chew it. It naturally makes a cold-pressed juice in the mouth

A sherbet made of sabja seeds or kokum, buttermilk, shikanji, thandai, sugarcane juice and aam panna are some of the traditional, healthy and suitable alternatives

Try flavoured water by soaking vetiver roots overnight, preferably in a mud pot, and drink it the next day. You can also try spices steeped in water with fennel and coriander seeds. Hibiscus lemon ice tea is also a good option

Milk-based beverages using coconut, almond and rice milk in a power-packed smoothie or homemade iced latte can also help you beat the heat

Drink a lot of water, coconut water, and have freshly made nimbu paani or shikanji

Fermented juice like kombucha has many health benefits and boosts immunity

Have watery fruits like watermelons, oranges or grapes to beat the heat 

Vegetables like cucumber, bottle gourd and ash gourd can be blended with lemon, mint, ginger and black salt to make healthy and delicious juices

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