Is Juiced-Up Juice Worth It?

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Buying orange juice has become an exercise in eeny, meeny, miny, moe. On a recent trip to the supermarket, we found 10 versions of best-selling Tropicana alone, including some with added calcium, vitamin E, even fish oil. Do extras change the taste? The price? Do you even need them?

Our trained tasters pitted standard Tropicana Pure Premium against four pulp-free nutrient-spiked Tropicana variations. (Pulp has little effect on nutrition.)

The verdict? Extras don’t subtract from the flavor or add to the price. The types tasted similar, without chalkiness in the added-calcium version or fishiness in the one with omega-3s. And all have a suggested retail price of $3.64 for a 64-fluid-ounce carton.

Whether the added nutrients make the products much more healthful is another matter. Below, we give our take on each, including Percent Daily Values of nutrients if they are higher than in standard OJ, which supplies 120% of the Daily Value for vitamin C and 2% for calcium.

Antioxidant Advantage

Vitamin C: 240%
Vitamin E: 100%

Vitamins C and E do have antioxidant properties, which might help protect the body's cells, in theory. But recent research has undercut the notion that antioxidant supplements confer much benefit, and the American Heart Association now recommends against taking them. Some clinical trials have found that high doses of vitamin E might raise some people's risk of heart failure or certain cancers, which suggests there's little reason for most people to eat antioxidant-fortified foods.

Calcium + Vitamin D

Vitamin D: 25%
Calcium: 35%

Many Americans don't get enough calcium and vitamin D, which together help build bone and might prevent certain cancers and protect the heart. An 8-ounce glass of this juice has about as much calcium as a glass of skim milk and 100 International Units of vitamin D (about one-third as much as 3 ounces of salmon). Citing recent research, our medical consultants say that the current Daily Value for D, 400 IUs, is too low; most people should aim for 800 to 1,000 IUs.

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Healthy Heart with Omega-3

There's no recommended Daily Value for omega-3s, but the American Heart Association says most people should eat at least two 3-ounce servings of fish (preferably fatty fish) per week. This juice provides 50 milligrams of omega-3s. Drinking an 8-ounce glass seven days a week would provide only as much as about a third of a serving of fatty fish. The AHA says that people with heart disease should aim for 1,000 mg of omega-3s a day, an amount that probably requires taking a daily fish-oil supplement, even if those people drink the fortified juice.

Healthy Kids

Vitamins A and E: 20%
Vitamin D: 25%
Calcium: 35%

Vitamin D and calcium are beneficial; the extra A and E might be less necessary.

Trop50: Less juice, same price

This new juice has about half the calories of others because it's almost 60% water. It has a less-intense orange flavor than regular OJ and although its no-cal sweetener comes from a plant (stevia), the drink has an artificial-sweetener flavor. The carton holds less than others, for the same price. Save money and calories: Mix regular OJ with water.

Bottom line

Choosing orange juice fortified with calcium or vitamin D, or omega-3 fatty acids, can make sense. But other extra vitamins offer few benefits beyond those of standard OJ. Best of all, eat an orange: It has the nutrients of juice and packs fewer calories per serving (about 65 vs. 110).

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