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Ask the RD

Jul 01, 2008

Food for Thought

You can pose your own question to our contributing editor Jennie McCary, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and the wellness coordinator for the Albuquerque Public School District. She chairs Action for Healthy Kids in New Mexico and teaches nutrition at the University of New Mexico. Please send your questions, along with your name and city/state/country, to senior editor Diane Lofshult at

Is it true that someone with a compromised or damaged liver should avoid juices made with sugar substitutes? I heard that most fruit juice contains more sugar than actual fruit and that powdered juices or juice substitutes usually contain a sugar substitute. What is the best juice choice for a person with liver disease?

It is true that fruit juice contains more sugar than fruit, but 100% fruit juice contains naturally occurring sugar. While most “light” juices contain a blend of sugar substitutes, aspartame is the sweetener used in many beverages, including Crystal Light®. The body breaks down and uses aspartame in the same way it processes naturally occurring sugar.

Because one of the many vital functions of the liver is to store sugar for energy, impaired carbohydrate metabolism is often a consequence of a damaged liver. For this reason, if the liver is impaired, the body needs a steady supply of dietary carbohydrate to produce sufficient energy. Fruit juice can produce some of that energy.

Generally speaking, 100% fruit juice is a safe beverage choice for people with liver disease, assuming that the juice is part of a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet. However, I do recommend limiting juice intake to no more than 4–8 ounces a day, or less than half of one’s total fruit intake. Diluting 100% fruit juice with water or unsweetened tea will reduce calories. 

Since there is a wide range of liver diseases and conditions with varying symptoms, people with liver problems should seek individualized nutrition therapy from a registered dietitian before making any dietary changes. 

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