joy of juicing, I explained how juices are a great way to get some of the 5 to 9 servings of vegetables and fruit we need every day to stay healthy. They provide a variety of nutrients without the fuss of buying, storing, and preparing up to 9 different kinds of plant food every day, and the right juices (I'm partial to vegetable juices for this) help control appetite and indirectly control weight. Fresh juices stored properly provide antioxidants that partially cancel out poor food choices. But even a good juice can be bad for you if it's loaded up with chemicals your body just tolerate. Here's what to look for on the label and why.
Not everyone is equally sensitive to every chemical additive that manufacturers will put in juice, but some people are very sensitive to certain chemicals added to juice. For instance, if you are allergic to aspirin, or if eating certain kinds of fruit makes you break out, you are likely to need to avoid the additive tartrazine.
Some US food manufacturers identify tartrazine by its older name F D & C Yellow 5. In the European Union, it's usually labeled as E102. Tartrazine adds a brilliant yellow color to orange, peach, and mango juices. It's most likely to be added to juices made from fruit harvested in the tropics, where excessive warmth keeps fruit from turning color as it ripens. Until recently, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was colored with tartrazine.
Tartrazine is notorious for causing allergies with unusual symptoms, such as dizziness, slurred speech, attention deficit, or migraine in addition to runny nose and/or skin irritation. Ironically, many antihistamines are also colored with tartrazine. If you are allergic to prunes, raisins, curry powder, oregano, dill, or cilantro, you need to avoid any juices that contain tartrazine.
Sodium benzoate, which is labeled in Europe as E211 is a preservative that is chemically very similar to benzoic acid, which occurs naturally in apples, plums, and cranberries. It's made by mixing benzoic acid and lye. In this form it slows down the metabolism of decay-causing bacteria, without adding any acidity to the flavor of the food or beverage to which it's added.
It's easier to give you a list of foods that don't contain sodium benzoate than it is to give you a list of foods that do. Nearly any packaged or bottled food or beverage will contain sodium benzoate, and most of us that's not a problem. Only about 1 in 300 people is sensitive to it. But for 1 in 300 people, the allergies caused by the chemical can be very serious.
Sodium benzoate causes many of the same symptoms as allergies to aspirin. It adds to the allergenic effects of aspirin and also to any allergenic effects of tartrazine, which are described above. Sometimes it's the combination of eating Thanksgiving cranberries (which contain benzoic acid) and eating a food that contains sodium benzoate and taking an aspirin that produces the allergic reaction. And sodium benzoate also increases any side effects caused by red dyes, such as Allura Red AC and Ponceau Red 4R.
Sodium benzoate is especially detrimental when it's added to juices you drink for their content of vitamin C. It reacts with vitamin C to form benzene, the cleaning solvent, not the automobile fuel. Regulatory agencies around the world pooh-pooh the potential of sodium benzoate to cause health problems in juice, but you get as much benzene from an 8-ounce (240 ml) glass of orange juice to which sodium benzoate has been added as you do from pumping a tank of gas or 24 hours of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.
Speaking of red dyes, Ponceau 4R (in Europe, E124) is the dye most often associated with ADHD. It's never the sole cause of ADHA in children or teens, but it's often one more burden on a stressed growing brain. If you want to avoid Ponceau 4R, make sure any strawberry or cherry juice you drink is either made at home or at least labeled as "all natural" or "organic."
Also in the family of allergy-inducing red and yellow dyes are Allura red (E129), carmoisine (E122), and Sunset Yellow (E110). The main difference among these dyes is how rapidly they react at body temperature. If you're loading up on dyes and aspirin, however, all of these chemicals have more or less the same effect.
It isn't just red and yellow dyes that can cause problems with allergies. A Gatorade-green dye called Quinonone Yellow (E104) can also trigger symptoms similar to aspirin allergy. About 1 in 100 people will experience a mild allergic reaction when juice containing Quinolone Yellow is spilled on the skin. About 1 in 300 people will experience moderate to severe asthma or hives after drinking a beverage (or eating smoked haddock) colored with the chemical. And about 1 in 1000 people will develop migraines, attention deficit, or otherwise inexplicable emotional symptoms after consuming the dye.
The best way to be absolutely, positively certain your juice doesn't contain any of these chemicals is to make your own juice. I'll have more to say about economical ways to enjoy juicing in a later post.
Image credit: Salimfadhley via Wikimedia Commons.