What Do Those Juice Labels Really Mean?

Your cheat sheet to learning the lingo for buying products, juice, and sweeteners —no nutrition degree required:


Make sure the label also includes “100 percent fruit juice with no added sugar. Nothing else is added or removed. This is usually accomplished by using heat to evaporate the water; what remains are the sugars and flavonoids that give the juice its flavor.

Once the juice is in a concentrated form, it can be frozen and stored for extended periods of time. This would all be fine and good except for one thing: the degree of Brix in the concentrate.

A degree of Brix is a unit of measurement for sugar dissolved in water; 1 degree of Brix is equivalent to 1 gram of sugar dissolved in 100 ml of water. So 30 degrees Brix is going to equal 30 grams of sugar per 100 ml of water, and so on.

In order for a juice to be considered 100 percent juice, it either has to be not-from-concentrate or from concentrate but has the identical Brix value of it’s not from concentrate cousin and no additional ingredients—just concentrated juice and water.

Here’s where it gets tricky: When the concentrated juice is reconstituted, water—and only water—should be added until the juice reaches its preconcentrated Brix level.  But sometimes, it’s difficult to achieve nature’s perfect sugar water ratio.

So the process begins to resemble a MythBusters moment—add a little sugar to up the Brix level, add some water because too much sugar was added, and so on. If this happens, the drink cannot be labeled 100 percent juice.


Finally, juice and nothing but juice. Actually, not quite. Yes, juice labeled 100 percent will contain a single or a blend of different fruit and/or vegetable juice that is either juiced directly from the product.

Yes, it has no added sugars or sweeteners. But it might be supplemented with vitamins and or minerals (most commonly, the bone-building nutrients calcium and vitamin D, which are more likely to be found in dairy foods—go figure).

Also, while the “100 percent juice” label means that everything in the bottle came from a fruit or vegetable, it may not necessarily be the fruit or vegetable you think you’re gulping.

To save money, companies dilute more expensive products like pomegranate and cranberry with cheaper juices like white grape, apple or pear. The finished product is still 100 percent fruit juice, but it may not necessarily be juice from the fruit you were expecting.


Eye opener—a box of fruit-sweetened cereal might contain more actual fruit than these drinks! Their real juice content can range anywhere from 10 percent to 99.9 percent of the drink (although the numbers usually hover somewhere between 10 percent to 50 percent).

The main ingredients are usually water and some type of sugar, plus added sweeteners, flavors, and other additives.


Often, no fruits were harmed in the making of these drinks. Usually, a brew of lab-concocted sweeteners and flavorings splice fruity flavors with a fortification of vitamins and minerals to make them look nutritious, these drinks have none of the antioxidants and phytochemicals that found in actual juices.


One grape or one drop of orange juice can make this claim accurate. However, a quick look at the ingredients list will show you what you need to know.

Ingredients are listed from the most to least abundant on the ingredients list. This pecking order also applies to 100 percent juice, so if your Pomegranate Blend boasts apple juice as the first ingredient and pomegranate as the last, you’re drinking much less pomegranate juice and mostly very expensive apple juice.


Don’t take off your reading glasses just yet. The drink might still have added flavors, even if it is labeled 100 percent fruit juice.

For instance, storage makes the juice lose its flavor so the solution the food scientists came up with is to add lab-produced essence to give the juice its original tang.

There are no requirements for companies to label that the juice has been “re-flavored.”


This is the only label that delivers the full grocery cart of nutritional goods. For food to bear the USDA Organic symbol, it must meet strict criteria, including having no synthetic ingredients, petroleum-based fertilizers, synthetic pesticides or anything that’s been genetically modified.


Your red flag to scan the ingredients label—the FDA requires only that these foods contain no added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.

So “natural” foods can still contain up to 90 percent chemically processed ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup (some companies argue that since it comes from corn, it’s healthy), alkalized cocoa, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, vanillin, and maltodextrin.

Even 100 percent natural isn’t necessarily 100 percent synthetic-free—Naked Juice (owned by PepsiCo) settled a lawsuit in 2013 because they claimed their juices were 100 percent all-natural but really contained things like Fibersol-2 (a proprietary synthetic digestion-resistant fiber produced by Archer Daniels Midland and developed by a Japanese chemical company—yum), fructooligosaccharides (it’s easier to say that it’s a synthetic fiber and sweetener) and Inulin (an artificial and invisible fiber added to foods to artificially increase fiber content).


This means as much as a blind date saying “I’ll call you in the morning” in ingredient-labeling terms.

In genuine speak, it must obtain from real food. In most real speak, your juice could legally include beaver butt (aka castoreum, which is an extraction of the dried glands and secretions from a beaver’s rear end, used to create, most often, a vanilla flavor).

One more thing: Both artificial and natural flavors are made by “flavorists” in a laboratory by blending either “natural” chemicals or “synthetic” chemicals to create flavorings.

By the time they’re finished, processing will have distilled these “natural” flavorings from anything recognizable as the original source (which may be a good thing if it’s castoreum).


Like an athlete on steroids, companies pump nutrients into drinks and food to make them sound healthier. A carton of OJ has so many added vitamins that its container looks like an ABC book.

Some bottles of juice claim to help with weight loss and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. It sounds good, but the evidence shows that these “functional foods” may also contain a list of unhealthy ingredients like sugar and fat and in no way equate to consuming real foods that naturally contain these nutritional benefits.


Creepy crawlies, anyone? Cochineal and carmine, made from the bodies of a scaly female insect, are used to add those vibrant hues to foods like grapefruit juice, lemonade, and applesauce.

Lab-made FD&C Green No. 3 and Fast Green FCF might give vegetable juice a faux healthy hue. These shades are chemically injected into food to make them resemble the pleasing eat me-now colors that nature produces naturally—like reds, oranges, and yellows.


They might not have been treated with ingredients that sound like they belong in a chemistry set (citric acid, sulfur dioxide, ascorbic acid, propionic acid, nitrates and nitrites, sodium bisulfite, sulfites, and even formaldehyde are all used as food preservatives to slow or prevent spoilage, discoloration, flavor loss, bacterial growth, mold or microbial growth and texture loss).

Even with a “No Preservatives” shout-out may have been blasted with irradiation to help keep it from spoiling—and this includes fresh fruits for sprouting and herbs and spices (in other words, the ingredients of a glass of juice).


Although not required to be labeled as such, these are Frankenstein plants or animals that have had DNA added to their genes from different species of living organisms, bacteria or viruses to get desired traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance of pesticides.

Although present in up to 70 percent of foods on US supermarket shelves, according to the Center for Food Safety, the good news is that the only GM produce you’re likely to find in the produce aisles is the Hawaiian papaya, a small amount of zucchini and squash, and some sweet corn.


An evil twin of GMOs, the method of treating food with irradiation was first approved by the FDA in 1963 to control insects in wheat and flour.

Food (mostly spices and a little bit of meat and poultry) is passed through irradiation (as opposed to heated, which is the energy source in pasteurization) to kill pathogens.

It doesn’t make the food radioactive; it just causes changes in the food. While those changes result in the mass destruction of any E. coli or salmonella that might be present in food, the concern is that they also destroy nutrients that are definitely part of the food’s DNA.

But you don’t get to decide if you want to skip food that has been irradiated because there are no label laws regarding it.


This is included as a standalone because so many juices use it to extend the shelf life of their product.

You would think with a name that includes “citric,” a lemon, orange, lime or grapefruit must have been involved in the making of this preservative.

Think again. More likely, it was made from GMO corn and sugar beets. (Isn’t science amazing?)


Literally, labels colored green. A sneaky marketing tool to lull you into thinking the food is healthier.


A small bottle of juice may actually contain four portions; to make a product look low in fat or calories, manufacturers base the nutritional content on small, often unrealistic, serving sizes (this might change as new libel laws are being hammered out).


This is not high fructose corn syrup. Nor does it contain even a droplet of fructose. But that is only because corn sugar is what corn syrup in all its guises is made from.

However, it’s an excess of sugar that is bad for us. It just turns out that corn syrup, high fructose or not, is one of the most common sweeteners in processed food—even in items, you wouldn’t expect it to show up in, like whole-wheat bread, honey roasted peanuts, frozen pizza, and tonic water.

So the real watchword to be on the lookout for is “sugar” or its 30 aliases (see “AKA Sugar,” below).


Shock, horror, gasp! Foods labeled “sugar-free” may not actually be 100 percent sugar-free.

These types of products often carry sugar alcohols, which are lower in calories.  But they still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources.


Fruits and vegetables naturally contain sugar, so although these products may not have added sugar, they still may contain natural sugars.


A marketer’s made-up term that is the verbal equivalent of “I only cheated a little.” In other words, it means nothing.


This label is often stamped on 100 percent juices—truthful, but duh!