Is Juicing Healthy for You?
Fresh juice—whether made at home or purchased from a fancy cold-pressed juicery—has long been considered an incredibly healthy “superdrink.” So much so that specific juices and juice cleanses have become popularized as a way to heal health concerns, lose weight, get glowing skin and more.
There are certainly strong health benefits of juice (though also some concerns as well). And the practice of cleansing as a “re-set” makes some sense (cutting out sugar and refined carbs eventually reduces cravings for them). But from a nutritional perspective, there’s debate as to whether juice and juice cleansing is more of a medical miracle or a hip fad.
So, let’s explore the art of juicing—and whether it’s effective as a cleanse, a regular supplement to healthy eating, or perhaps neither.
What’s the point of juicing?
Juicing extracts most of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from the fiber that holds fruits and vegetables together.
Why remove the healthy fiber from a perfectly fine fruit or vegetable? Because it’s easier for the body to absorb nutrients from juice when it doesn’t have to work as hard to digest the fiber of the whole fruit/vegetable those nutrients are packaged in. So, one benefit of juicing is that it fast-tracks nutrients into your system.
The purpose of a juice cleanse (consuming nothing but juice for several days) is to give your digestive system a rest, load your body with easy-to-digest nutrients, and break out of craving cycles associated with high-sugar and high-carb diets.
The health Benefits of juicing
Juicing can be convenient for people who don’t eat enough veggies (most Americans!) and is an easy way to add a wide variety of vegetables you wouldn’t normally eat to your diet. It’s also an efficient way to consume and absorb the essential micronutrients your body needs (because it doesn’t have to work through all that fiber).
Particularly for people with compromised digestion (perhaps as a result of illness or poor diet over many years), juicing helps to “pre-digest” fruits and vegetables so your body can get the most nutrients out of them.
Because of better nutrient absorption, some common benefits of juicing include:
improved skin condition
It’s important to note that these benefits refer to the regular consumption of juices made primarily of green vegetables. The benefits of short-term juice cleanses are harder to measure. And the benefits of fruit-heavy juices…well, we’ll talk about that now:
Juicing drawbacks: too little fiber & too much sugar
One of the key drawbacks of juicing is exactly what gives it the benefits mentioned above—it removes fiber. But most Americans don’t eat enough fiber as it is, so it’s not necessarily a great idea to forgo all the fiber you lose in juicing.
Also, the lack of fiber presents another, even larger problem: without fiber to slow digestion, fruit sugars enter into your bloodstream much more quickly than they would if they were consumed in a piece of whole fruit. This effect gets further compounded because, without the bulky fiber, you need a lot more pieces of fruit to make a single serving of juice. (For example, it takes about six oranges to make a glass of orange juice. When was the last time you ate six full oranges in one sitting? 😯)
The end result is that a glass of juice can be so sugary—even more sugary than a soda—that it spikes your blood sugar and requires extra work from your pancreas to bring it back to healthy levels. This is the exact process that eventually leads to insulin resistance and type II diabetes.
Other juicing drawbacks
There are a few other drawbacks to juice and juice cleanses: Store-bought cold-pressed juice is quite expensive. Juicing at home requires specific (and also expensive) equipment and is typically more time-consuming than eating raw veggies (or even making a smoothie). Juicing results in more food waste if you’re only consuming the juice and discarding the pulp.
And, juice is not a complete meal—your body also needs protein, complex carbs and healthy fats for optimum functioning. Moreover, fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) require dietary fat in the digestive tract in order to be properly absorbed. Because of this, most nutrition experts say that juicing is better as part of a healthy diet (for example, as a snack between meals) rather than as an exclusive intermittent juice cleanse.
So, is juicing good for you?
Pure fruit juice: Not really—it’s way too high in sugars.
Vegetable juice: Yes, but it may not be entirely necessary.
The main determinant is fiber—it’s good for you, but hard to break down. People with healthy digestive systems should have no problem digesting whole fruits and vegetables. But, if you suffer from digestive troubles, removing fiber can lighten the load on your digestive system and help you absorb more nutrients.
What about “re-setting” with a juice cleanse?
For most situations (like re-setting holiday excess), you’re probably better off with a daily green juice and a complete whole food diet rather than a full-blown cleanse.
How to juice at home
All that said, an occasional (or even regular) vegetable-based juice is a perfectly healthy addition to an otherwise healthy, whole-food diet. Here’s how to create healthful juices for yourself at home:
There are many different types of home juicers on the market, from fast-spinning centrifugal juicers to slow-moving masticating juicers. The slower the juice is extracted, the more nutrients are preserved. (The fast-spinning blades of centrifugal juicers create heat that breaks down some of the enzymes in the juice.)
Masticating (“cold-pressed”) juicers are great products and preserve more nutrients, but centrifugal juicers are fine too (especially if you’re consuming the juice right away), and they’re less expensive and easier to find commercially.
Also consider the clean-up required for different models. A cheaper juicer isn’t a better deal if you never use it because it’s too time-consuming to clean.
Focus on leafy greens—they should make up about 70-80% of your juice.
Add green herbs too! Think cilantro, parsley, basil, mint, etc. They’re great at detoxifying and add a nice punch of flavor.
When adding fruits, add those that are lowest in sugar and highest in nutrients, like apples and grapefruit.
If you want to add volume to your juice, use vegetables that have high water content, like celery and cucumber.
Other nice add-ins: lemon, lime, ginger.
Choose organic as much as possible. The point of juicing is to super-charge your body with nutrients, not pesticide residues. Spinach and other greens have some of the highest pesticide residues of fresh vegetables. If you’re not familiar, check out the top foods you should definitely buy organic.
Make only as much juice as you can drink immediately. Fresh juice is highly perishable and can grow harmful bacteria.
You can store fresh juice in the fridge for up to 8ish hours in a glass jar with an airtight lid. Fill the jar to the top, leaving only a minimal amount of air in the jar—the oxygen in air oxidizes the juice, breaking it down and decreasing its nutritional value.
The best time to drink juice (for optimum nutrient absorption) is on an empty stomach.
As always, pay attention to your body and how you react to different types of juice. It shouldn’t taste disgusting or hurt your stomach—if it does, it’s a sign you’ve juiced something your body isn’t able to handle in that dose. Reduce the amount of that vegetable you include in a serving, or cut it out to see if you feel better.
Find creative ways to use your pulp! Turn that valuable fiber into something else, like muffins, veggie broth, or an awesome cream cheese spread—we share some ideas for this on Pinterest.
Starter juice recipes
The fun thing about juicing is you don’t need a recipe—you can create unlimited combinations based on what’s seasonal, or in your fridge, and tweak your ingredients based on personal preference. But, to get started, here are a few of our favorite recipes:
What to look for in store-bought juice
If you’re purchasing juice from elsewhere, look for a juice that is:
Heavy on the greens
Doesn’t include high-sugar fruits like bananas, pineapple, mango, etc.
Cold-pressed and made fresh
FOUR WELLNESS Tip
Whether you’re already a juice-lover or are looking to add healthful juices to your diet, use the tips above to choose nutrient-rich, low-sugar juices as a supplement to a healthy diet (that includes whole fruits and vegetables!).
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