To juice or not to juice?

That is the question.

Disagreement over the benefits and risks of juicing abound. And while juicing can be a tasty asset to your healthy lifestyle — depending on the quality, type, quantity, and frequency as well as your health goals and challenges — it can also disappoint. Read on to figure out if juicing is right for you, and some practical guidelines to get you started on the road to liquid utopia. 

What, exactly, is “juicing”?

When most people think about juice, they think about store-bought apple or orange juice. In general, juices like these offer little nutritionally that you couldn’t get more healthfully elsewhere or in the whole fruit, and they deliver a load of sugar that your body does not need.

The kind of juicing that may offer health benefits involves raw, freshly extracted juice from various fruits and vegetables and drinking it right away — think juice bars and a juice extractor for your own kitchen. Also, bottled chilled “fresh” (unpasteurized and unpreserved) juices in the at the store, while not ideal, are becoming more available and affordable. These are not the best option, however, because bottled juices quickly lose their freshness factor and nutrient value over time. 

Should you invest in a juicer? If you plan on drinking fresh juice daily or even weekly, yes, having your own is the most affordable option, because fresh juice from bars or the store cost several times more than juicing yourself. That $100 (or $1000, depending on model) juicer will eventually pay for itself. Plus, you’ll have more control over the juice ingredients, quality, and quantity.

Juice versus smoothies

Juice is the liquid pressed out from produce; the fiber gets left behind (but of course can be scooped out of the juicer and used for cooking soup, homemade burgers and loaves, and in baked goods). Smoothies, made in a blender or food processor, are essentially pureed whole fruits and vegetables, so you’re getting the pulp and fiber. Calorie and nutrient content varies depending on the recipe. Many people will add protein powder to either so they can meet their daily protein requirements. 

 Will juicing help with weight loss?

Weight control always comes down to energy in versus energy out. In that way, some say to skip drinking calories, which can deliver calories too fast, and drink water instead. Others insist that juicing assists with weight loss by maximizing nutrient density (nutrient levels per calorie consumed) and optimizing metabolism. There’s nothing magical or fat-burning about fresh juice, but it certainly can be a healthful part of a weight loss plan.

 Reported benefits: what does the research say?

Juicing proponents rave about their mental clarity, high energy, clear skin, shiny hair, thick nails, absence of illness, and impeccable bowel habits. But is it the the juice per se providing all these benefits? After all, most people who drink fresh juice don’t follow it up with a bag of chips — they are healthy in most aspects of their lifestyle, including their diets, exercise habits, sleep habits, and smoking. Most health experts claim that regular juicing per se does not provide proven health advantages. Indeed, evidence of these sorts of benefits are largely anecdotal, but risks of juicing are relatively low in healthy people, and fresh juice provides nutrients necessary for optimal health, so it comes down to personal preference and what works for each of us.

 

Juice Detox / Cleanse: is it real?

Probably the most controversial topic amongst the juicing community is detox — can you really flush out toxins with a daily juice elixir or a 3-day juice cleanse? No research to date provides hard data that juicing provides specific health benefits above and beyond say, a high produce diet would. That said, the plethora of anecdotal evidence out there can’t be ignored. A juice fast or detox should be temporary and done under a healthcare provider’s supervision. It is not intended to displace healthful food. Some real benefits: a detox can help people psychologically “jump start” a healthy eating plan, provide a strategy for quick initial weight loss for a boost of motivation, and help the body readjust to smaller portions and lower calorie intake, all of which aid in weight loss and feelings of well-being. 

Is organic necessary? Organically grown produce is free of chemical additives and genetic modification, a good thing. But if organic is prohibitively expensive, non-organic is still okay. We all do out best; achieving optimal health is never all-or-nothing.

WHEN JUICING BACKFIRES 

Don’t jump right into an epic fast. You don’t need to fast to get the benefits of juice. In fact, if you rely on juice for most or all of your calories for more than a few days, it can mess with your metabolism and health, especially if you have one or more health conditions. If you want to do a fast, consult a healthcare expert to guide you. In general, it’s best to include fresh juice as a healthy part of your diet.

Juice is not a substitute for whole fruits and vegetables. Whole foods are still your greatest weapon in your war against disease and for optimal health. When we remove fiber from produce, we also remove beneficial antioxidants and phytonutrients that are bound to that fiber. Furthermore, fiber aids in digestive health, fullness (which affects weight control), and balance of good bacteria, which affects immune function. So sure, drink up, but don’t ditch the salad.

Juice can interact with some medications and be dangerous for those with certain conditions. If you’re taking prescription drugs, make sure you don’t have any dietary restrictions. If you have hypoglycemia, pre-diabetes, diabetes, gout, bone disease, arthritis, thyroid problems, gastrointestinal issues, or kidney disorders, work closely with a registered or certified nutritionist to work juice into your diet.

That orange tinge. Yup, too much carrot juice can lead to a buildup of carotenoids in the skin, causing that lovely orange hue. But don’t panic; carotenoderma sounds scary but is harmless.

JUICE RULES

1.     Focus on the veggies. In general, it is difficult to get too many calories from a serving or two of vegetable juice. But it’s mad easy to pack away too much fruit juice, which is much higher in sugar and calories. To get the most bang from your caloric buck, aim to make at least 3/4 of your juice blends from veggies. To achieve flavor without excess fruit juice, try lemons and limes, fresh herbs like mint and parsley, and roots like ginger and turmeric.

2.     Store for 72 hours or less. Always in the fridge, and in an airtight container like a mason jar.

3.     For the most part, use the whole veggie or fruit. But there are important exceptions! Remove the pits from stone fruits (like peaches and apricots) and the seeds from apples. Peel beets, onions, and garlic, and remove citrus peel (except lemons and limes, if you like them), melon rind, and the peels of mangoes, pineapple, kiwis, pomegranate, and papayas. Click here for a nice prep guide.

4.     Don’t juice bananas, coconuts, or avocados, but you can blend them in later! Also avoid juicing winter squash and eggplant.

5.     Buy a juicer based not only on price but on type, complexity, ease of cleaning, planned usage, size, and style. An important consideration: some juicers also have a homogenyzing (blending) function; if you want to do more with your juicer (think smoothies, ice cream, nut butters, sauces, purees), consider a more robust model. Do your homework: assess your own needs and read online reviews and product comparisons before purchasing.

6.     Follow a few recipes before experimenting. Some flavors are surprisingly strong, you need to learn what you like and don’t like. Some great juice recipes can be found here!

You can also download juice recipe apps for your smartphone.

by Dina Aronson, MS, RDN

SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSLETTERGet our 7 Day Head Start E-book for FREE!