(Investigator 142, 2012 January)

As Rosenfeld (1996) indicated fruit and vegetable juices, whether purchased or self-prepared, is a quick and convenient way in which to obtain the essential nutrients they contain. However, he warned that since plant fibre is an essential dietary component, juices should not replace the normal daily intake of fruit and vegetables.

Indeed capsules containing supplementary fibre are now readily available and are recommended for those who need to compensate for the lack of dietary fibre amongst those who, for various reasons, are unable to obtain the normal levels of dietary fibre.

Provided the juices are purchased while still fresh, or prepared from fresh fruit and vegetables, they provide a relatively inexpensive and healthy dietary supplement. However the problem often arises with the introduction of some new type of fruit or vegetable juice which, because of its exceptionally high-cost, is often marketed with highly exaggerated claims of their ability to improve health, reduce aging, etc. Yet, despite these quite extraordinary promises, these juices are actually "quack juices" which in fact, are no more beneficial than any of the ordinary low-cost varieties of fruit juices!

The public is regularly exposed to a variety of such "quack health products" which, all too often, are presented in such a way that they appear to be legitimate and beneficial. One common approach in advertising these products is to make false "scientific" claims about their health-promoting potential.

This approach is widely used to promote so-called health drinks or fruit juices, especially those that are often referred to as "super-fruit" drinks. Since the advertisers are well aware that the general public tends to accept such claims without question, and, by making such claims, they give the product a false appearance of legitimacy and efficacy.

Advertising for these products always promote them in the most flattering terms and make quite extravagant claims about their ability to produce good-health, youthfulness, vigour, improved eye-sight, make the hair thicker, remove wrinkles and skin blemishes, etc. Such "promises" are specifically designed to appeal to people's unrealistic desire to find a "quick-fix", an easy way to be healthy, something that will instantly replace a lifetime of unhealthy living.

This type of product is neither new nor original. For thousands of years there has always been some sharp operator ready to take advantage of peoples' natural gullibility, and that, by promising their product will improve our health, improve our appearance, especially if it makes us look younger, people seem to be only too eager to purchase these products.

The heyday of these fabulous products was the early part of the 19th century when quack elixirs of every kind proliferated, sold by hucksters in medicine-shows. Commonly known as "snake-oil salesmen", these conmen travelled around the countryside in horse-drawn wagons. When they arrived in some small rural town they would set up their wagon, and present a musical, medical show. When a crowd had been attracted by the music, the salesman, who generally referred to himself as a "doctor", would do his spiel, presenting his "wonder tonic" as the ultimate panacea that could heal every illness or physical ailment known to humankind.

Although these concoctions were usually a mixture of cheap alcohol and whatever herbs they could find locally, they always claimed the fabulous elixir had been prepared from a secret formula, containing a collection of "rare herbs” and a selection of other secret ingredients. Some even claimed their elixir contained the mystical “snake oil” (from which these conmen gained their nickname).

Another common claim was that the hawker of the magical elixir had one day found a dying Indian medicine-man, and having rendered as much assistance as he could, in gratitude for his help, in his dying moments the Indian had passed on to him the secret formula of this incredible elixir.

As the 19th century progressed these snake-oil salesmen abandoned the drudge of travelling around the countryside; they became more businesslike, switching their wagons for an office and a factory, and using the growing availability of newspapers to advertise their products. Typical of the products sold were Mansfield's Magic Arnica Liniment, this was, "... prepared from rare essential oils, extract of camphor, arnica, chlorodine and magnetic fluid chemically combined."

One of the major purveyors of quack medicine products was the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Co. who, in addition to their main product Kickapoo Indian Sagwa also offered a range of Kickapoo Indian pills, oil, salve, worm-killer and cough cure. The Sagwa was described as, "A compound of the virtues of roots, herbs, barks, gums and leaves...drives out the foul corruption that which contaminates the blood and causes derangement and decay." (McCoy, p. 10)

The tactic of selling useless products to a gullible public still persists, so that today we find numerous quack products being marketed. In this instance we are examining the product popularly known as "super-fruit juices", juices that are claimed to contain a "secret ingredient" that delivers incredible amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, etc. and is "guaranteed" to cure every disorder known to humankind; the claims are rather reminiscent of the ones made by the quacks of old; the only difference is that many of these products are being marketed through multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes.

One of the major claims for the various fruit juices is that they contain large amounts of antioxidants, substances that fight the free radicals in the body. A free radical is a molecule which, because of its structure is able to bond with other molecules oxidizing them and stripping them of electrons; essentially it causes cells to break down, a process associated with the overall aging process of the body. Naturally, anything which will prevent our organs, and especially our skin, aging, and becoming wrinkled has a tremendous attraction to the vanity of both men and women. However, the antioxidizing process of the free radicals is quite a complex and important part of body chemistry, for instance, one vital process they perform is to convert body fat into energy.

Considering that these super-juice products are extremely expensive, often around $50 or more per litre, it is important to determine whether or not they contain a higher level of antioxidants than more commonly available fruit or fruit juices. This information was provided by Choice, which measured the total antioxidant capacity (TAC) the amounts of antioxidants in the various super-juices being tested.

As a guide for comparison, they first determined that the TAC of a common Red Delicious Apple was 5900 units, and the various TAC's obtained from a selection of commonly available super-juices were compared to the TAC of the apple. The various results are shown in the following table.


Table prepared from information in Choice 2007 article

Red Delicious Apple (1) 5,900 units 100%
Navel Orange (1) 2,540 units 43%
Strawberries (one cup) 5,938 units 100%
Raspberries (one cup) 6,058 units 102%
Blueberries (one cup) 9,019 units 152%
Goji Juice
570 - 2,025 Units 10% - 34%
Mangosteen Fruit Juice 1,020 -1,710 units 17% -29%
Noni Fruit Juice 525 - 540 units 9%
Acai 1,800 units 31%
Interestingly the TAC levels in the various super-fruit juices ranged from only 9% to 34% which are all well below the TAC of the apple. Given the differences in the amount of antioxidants contained in the more common varieties of fruit, and in particular, the vast price differences between the more common fruit and the super-juices, it would appear that the ordinary fruit varieties represent a far superior option, on the basis of both health, and cost!

On the basis of this analysis Choice (2007) concluded, "You can pay as much as $85 for a litre of one of these juices. On a serve-by-serve basis, many common fruits, such as strawberries, and apples, contain more antioxidants, and are cheaper." (p. 13)


The truth behind superjuices, (2007). Choice, September, 13-15.
McCoy, B. (2000). Quack! Tales of Medical Fraud From the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices. Santa Monica, California: Santa Monica Press.
Rosenfeld, I. (1996). Dr. Rosenfeld's Guide to Alternative Medicine. New York: Random House, Inc.
Skeptoid #86 February 5th 2008.

From: Eddie, L. 2008 A Skeptical Look At Alternative Therapies and Beliefs, Digital Reproductions.