Q: Is there a nutritional difference between apple cider and apple juice?
A: In the United States, apple cider refers to apple juice that has not been filtered to remove all apple pulp. (Outside the United States, cider usually refers to an alcoholic beverage, designated as “hard cider” domestically.) They contain the same amount of calories, natural sugar and vitamins, though some juices have added vitamin C. Cider contains more of apples’ polyphenol compounds than clear commercial apple juice. Fresh cider from cider apples may contain from two to four times the amount of these healthful compounds compared to clear commercial apple juice because of the apple varieties used and the extra processing to make clear juice.
Researchers are looking at how these polyphenol compounds may play a role in reducing cancer risk. These compounds turn on body antioxidant enzymes and may help protect against cancer by stimulating self-destruction of abnormal cells (an effect that has been seen in laboratory studies with these compounds).
However, even cider can’t offer as many phytochemicals as you get from eating a whole apple, and it is missing the dietary fiber an apple provides. Apples’ fiber can provide a feeling of fullness that may help you keep calorie consumption balanced with your needs. That same fiber also can help lower blood cholesterol and may be used by healthy bacteria in our gut to produce protective substances that reduce risk of colon cancer. Cider is a great choice for most of us, but it does pose one safety concern: cider, especially straight from a cider mill or farm stand, is usually not pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria. For most people, who have healthy immune systems, this poses no problem. However, for those whose immune function has been reduced by illnesses like AIDS, cancer or diabetes, or by medications, it may pose risk. Others with more vulnerable immune systems include the elderly, pregnant women, infants and young children. These people are at risk of serious illness from food-borne bacteria, so the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that these groups should only drink unpasteurized juice if they bring it to a boil first to kill any harmful bacteria.
AICR HealthTalk is by Karen Collins, MS, RDN.