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The Truth about Juicing and Your Health

To Juice or Not to Juice;That is the Question

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed and Registered Dietitian

A couple decades ago, juicing was something that only overzealously health-conscious people did.  You just knew someone was into healthy living if he or she owned a juicer or drank fresh juice regularly. Today, it's much more popular. People are juicing to lose weight, to cleanse and to consume more nutrients. Juicers are popular sold not only via infomercials but can easily be found in department stores. Juice bars have popped up not just in hip California neighborhoods but even in the Midwest.
 
In the SparkPeople Community, we get questions about juicing all the time. Should I be juicing?  Will juicing improve my health?  Does juicing help with weight loss?  While you may be looking for a quick answer, it isn't that simple.  Like many things in nutrition and weight loss, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to the topic of juicing.  Read on to find out if juicing can benefit you and your goals.
 
What Exactly Is Juicing, Anyway?
Juicing is the process of extracting the juice from fresh fruits and vegetables.  A small kitchen appliance known as a juicer is used to extract the juice, and these can range in price from $50-$500. Drinking the juice of fruits and vegetables means consuming their water and much of their vitamin and mineral content; however, the pulp, or fiber, which also has many health benefits, is removed. (Note: Some high-powered juicers do retain most of the pulp in the juice, thus resulting in a thicker juice.)

There are a few main types of juicers out on the market today:

''Fast'' Juicers
This type of juicer is one of the most common varieties you'll find on the market. A fast juicer (or centrifugal juicer) grinds your fruits and veggies and then pushes the extracted juice through a strainer by spinning at a very high speed. The pulp is extracted and ejected into a special compartment, usually near the back of the juicer. This type of juicer produces pulp-free juice very quickly, but it also tends to extract less juice than other types of juicers. This type of juicer also generates more heat than other types, which some experts say could compromise the nutrients in the produce. 

"Slow" Juicers
This juicer produces juice in two steps, using one or two gears. First, it crushes the fruits and veggies, and then it presses out the juice. These types of juicers take longer to produce juice, and they tend to be more expensive than most centrifugal juicers. However, they are said to extract more nutrients from the produce. They yield a thick juice with more pulp, yet still produce some pulp extract in a separate compartment.

''Whole Food'' Juicers
These juicers are reminiscient of blenders. Using sharp blades at high speeds, they are able to pulverize whole fruits and veggies into liquid. These do not have a separate pulp compartment.
 
Fresh juices should not be confused with smoothies, which are usually made in a blender, food processor, or high-powered juicer and include the fibrous pulp of the fruit and vegetable ingredients (and can often contain a blend of fruit, vegetables, juice, dairy and other ingredients). 

How Juice Stacks Up against Whole Foods
Proponents of juicing like to say that juice is more nutritious than simply consuming fruits and vegetables. But does that argument really hold up? To compare the nutrition of whole fruits and vegetables to juice, it is important to compare apples to apples (no pun intended).  For accuracy, this means that one must compare them based on equal portions of weight (in grams), which is what we've done in the chart below. If using a juicer or blender that retains the pulp, the end result will be similar to the whole fruit.  This chart is a comparison of whole fruit vs juice that does not retain the pulp.
<pagebreak>  
100 Grams of Juice vs Whole Foods
 
Food or Juice Calories Water content Fiber
 
Carbs Protein Vitamin A Vitamin C Potassium
Apple, 2.5'' diameter
 
Apple juice, 3 fl. oz.
52
 
46
86 g
 
88 g
2.4 g
 
0.2 g
13.8 g
 
11.3 g
0.3 g
 
0.1 g
54 IU
 
1.0 IU
4.6 mg
 
1.0 mg
107 mg
 
101 mg
Grapes, 20 whole
 
Grape juice, 3 fl. oz.
69
 
60
81 g
 
85 g
0.9 g
 
0.2 g
18.1 g
 
14.8 g
0.7 g
 
0.4 g
66 IU
 
8 IU
3.2 mg
 
0.1 mg
191 mg
 
104 mg
Orange, 2.5'' diameter
 
Orange juice, 3 fl. oz
49
 
45
87 g
 
88 g
2.2 g
 
0.2 g
12.5 g
 
10.4 g
0.9 g
 
0.7 g
247 IU
 
200 IU
59 mg
 
50 mg
166 mg
 
20 mg
Carrots, 2 (5.5'' long)
 
Carrot juice, 3 fl. oz.
41
 
41
88 g
 
89 g
2.8 g
 
0.8 g
9.6 g
 
9.3 g
0.9 g
 
0.9 g
16,706 IU
 
19,124 IU
5.9 mg
 
8.5 mg
320 mg
 
292 mg
Kale, 1.5 C chopped
 
Kale juice, 3 fl. oz.
49
 
40
84 g
 
n/a
1.7 g
 
0 g
8.8 g
 
8.0 g
4.3 g
 
2.5 g
9990 IU
 
14,750 IU
120 mg
 
116 mg
491 mg
 
428 mg
Tomato, 2.5'' diameter
 
 
Tomato juice, 3 fl. oz.
18
 
 
17
94 g
 
 
94 g
1.2 g
 
 
0.4 g
4.24 g
 
 
3.89 g
0.9 g
 
 
0.7 g
833 IU
 
 
450 IU
13.7 mg
 
 
18.3 mg
 
237 mg
 
 
229 mg
 
By looking at the chart, you'll notice:

  • Whole foods usually contain more vitamins and minerals. This is most often due to the fact that many of these nutrients are in (or very near) the skin of fruits and vegetables, which gets discarded as pulp when fruits and vegetables are juiced.  
     
  • Whole foods always provide more fiber. As expected, fiber content is always higher in the whole produce since it is primarily found in the pulp, which is removed with the traditional juicing process. Fiber is one of the key reasons that fruits and vegetable are so good for us.
     
  • Gram for gram, juice is slightly lower in calories due to its slightly higher water content. The calorie content of your juice will be dependent on the combination of produce used in your given juicing recipe.  However, this is only the case if you stick to the small 3-fluid ounce portion of juice listed in this chart. Many people drink large cups of juice, which can double or triple the calories listed. Notice that fruits do have a higher calorie content than most non-starchy vegetables, primarily due to their natural sugar content. 
     
  • Both juice and whole foods provide a lot of water. No matter which option you choose, juice, whole fruits and whole vegetables all provide needed hydration for the body.
     
  • Whole fruits are lower in carbs than their juices.  Both fruits and vegetables contain carbohydrates, but fruits contain more carbs than veggies typically do.  These carbs come primarily from the natural sugars contained in the produce, but are considered ''smart carbs'' because they are nutrient dense and rich in fiber, which helps slow  blood sugar response in the body. Yet, for people following a weight-loss program or a diet to control blood sugar levels, the carbs in fruits, vegetables, and their juices should all be monitored.  When making your selections, note that fruit juices are usually higher in carbohydrates. (Learn more about making smart fruit and juice choices when you have diabetes.)

    You may think that the Glycemic Index (GI) would be a helpful tool for calculating the nutritional differences between whole produce and juice.  However, for people with diabetes, counting total carbs is the most valuable tool for regulating blood sugar.  If you are having difficulty controlling blood sugar readings, work with your health care provider to adjust your eating plan.


One other concern with juicing is the cost. It takes a lot of fruits and vegetables to make a small amount of juice, and these fresh produce items don't come cheap. Especially if you are discarding the pulp, you're spending a lot of money on making fresh juice when your wallet (and body) may benefit more from simply eating the fresh produce. Healthy eating does not have to cost a lot of money, but if budgetary constraints are a top concern of yours, juicing isn't the most frugal choice when it comes to getting the most nutrition for your buck. 
 
So Why Do People Juice? What Are the Benefits?
People who juice usually fall into one or more categories based on the reason they choose to juice.
 

  • The Juice Cleanser uses a juice concoction with the goal of detoxing the body and giving the gut a rest.
     
  • The Juice Faster is typically looking to jump-start their weight loss by using fruit and vegetable juices as their main source of nutrition for up to a few days, weeks, or even months.
     
  • The Juice Snacker enjoys freshly squeezed juice with a meal or snack, and occasionally replaces a meal with only juice. This juicer simply likes juice or feels that fresh juice is a healthy addition to their diet on occasion.


Does juicing help people reach any of the goals above? I'll be the first to admit that while there is a great deal of research regarding the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, there is very little research-based evidence regarding the juice of such produce. Yet, we can still use science and common sense to answer the most common questions about juicing. <pagebreak>
 
Will Juicing Improve My Health? 
Juicing is no healthier than eating whole fruits and vegetables.  When comparing gram weights, juice is not more nutritious than the whole produce. In fact, it is often lower in many nutrients, and the beneficial fiber is near zero. Contrary to some claims, your body does not absorb the nutrients better in juice form.
 
That said, juice does contain nutrients. Many people prefer drinking juice to eating whole fruits and vegetables. So if juicing helps you increase your consumption of produce, that is generally a good thing for most people. However, you will get more health benefits from finding ways to increase your daily consumption of whole fruits and vegetables than by only drinking their juice alone, so that should be your  main goal if health is your reason for juicing.
 
Will Juicing Cleanse or Detox My Body? 
In a word, no. Juice will not cleanse your body. There is no scientific evidence showing that ingredients in juices help to eliminate toxins.  In fact, your body is well-equipped with its own detoxing systems (including the circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems).  To keep your organs functioning at peak performance, a balanced diet consisting of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is needed. The body cannot survive on the nutrients in fruits and vegetables (or their juice) alone.  Therefore, a juicing cleanse may actually be preventing the body from functioning optimally. In addition, healthy adults have no reason to give the gut a rest from fiber intake.  In fact, for optimal intestinal function and overall health, it is best to consume nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods every day. Learn more about the truth behind common detox diet claims.    
 
Does Juicing Help with Weight Loss? 
Maybe… but maybe not.
 
First, it's important to remember that no single food causes obesity, and the inclusion or exclusion of any single food or food group will not cause weight loss. Weight loss comes down to consuming fewer calories than you burn on a regular basis. Juicing can either help or hinder this depending on how much you're consuming (and what else you're eating).
 
Doing the math, on average, an ounce of ''mixed juice'' contains about 15 calories.  If you need 1,400-1,500 calories daily to achieve weekly weight loss, you could drink a whopping 96 ounces of this juice (about 12 cups) each day and still stay in that calorie range, which should result in weight loss. On this sample juicing diet, you would, however, only be getting 9 grams of fiber (36% of your need) and 25 grams of protein (41% of your need) each day, which is far from ideal.  This unbalanced nutrient intake would result in immediate muscle mass loss and an increase in hunger and food cravings. Other nutrients such as fat, vitamins and minerals would also be severely lacking.  Successful and safe long-term weight loss would not be achievable on such a plan.  When followed for a few days, this type of juice fast would probably not harm a healthy adult. However, if followed for several weeks, or if followed by people with certain medical conditions, this type of fast could lead to dangerous complications (more on that below).
 
Remember that the best weight-loss plan helps you achieve balance and moderation with a wide variety of foods that you enjoy and can stick with eating for the long term. Juicing may result in some weight loss, but it's a crash diet at best.
 
On the flip side, if you add juice to your current diet (and continue eating other whole foods), you could easily over-consume calories and not lose weight at all. A 12-ounce glass of juice typically contains 180 calories.  Adding a couple of these glasses on top of your regular daily intake would likely put you out of your weight-loss calorie range and could result in weight gain.
 
Although most of us would prefer a quick fix or weight-loss boost, remember that weight loss is not so simple. Eating more of any one food likely won't change your weight for the better.
 
Health Concerns with Juicing
Juicing could have potential food-medication interactions and medical complications for some people.  For example:

  • Increasing foods high in vitamin K, such as spinach and kale, may affect anti-blood clotting medication.
     
  • Grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interact with more than 30 common medications.
     
  • Increasing fruit juice intake can increase carbohydrate intake and raise blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. 
     
  • The higher potassium intake from fruits and vegetables may be dangerous to someone with kidney disease.


Anyone with a health condition or taking medication, especially those with kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension should consult their physician or dietitian before making significant dietary changes. 
 
Give It a Whirl: The Right Way to Juice
While there are many reasons why one should not turn to an exclusively juicing diet, there is no need to forgo juice if you enjoy its refreshing taste and endless flavor combinations.  You just need to juice with a little common sense and know-how by practicing these tips.

  • Turn Yucky into Yummy. Juicing can be a way to incorporate produce that you normally might not eat due to flavor or texture issues.  Beets, kale, and spinach tend to be less noticeable when combined with the flavors of fruits and berries, so experiment by combining your least favorite produce items in different flavor combinations.
     
  • Don't Pitch the Pulp.  You can still reap the benefits of that fiber-rich pulp by adding it to soups, stews, grain and rice dishes, pasta sauces, muffins and quick breads. Don't let those nutrients go to waste—get creative with them in the kitchen. 
     
  • Try a Juicy Smoothie.  Use the fresh juice you make as the liquid component in your favorite smoothie.  You can also add the discarded pulp as well.  Blend in some ground flaxseed, nut butter or avocado for healthy fats and some yogurt for protein.  You'll end up with a complete balanced meal.
     
  • The Five-a-Day Challenge.  Juicing can help you meet your 5-servings-a-day minimum of fruits and vegetables; that means no more than 1 cup of juice daily, which counts as 2 produce servings.  Just make sure you are incorporating enough whole fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes and lentils to meet your 25 grams of fiber as well.  You may even surprise yourself by getting more than 5 servings!
     
  • Rotate and Renew. Instead of limiting your produce juicing selections to the same few every time, rotate in new offerings based on what's fresh and locally available at your farmers market.  Incorporate a variety of colors into your juice, as each color represents a different nutrient profile. 
     
  • Boost Flavor.  Use herbs, spices and extracts to add flavor to your juice blends and smoothies.  Think basil, mint, cilantro, cayenne, ginger, and cinnamon.
     
  • Remember Food Safety.  Wash your hands before touching the fruits and vegetables.  Then, be sure to thoroughly wash the produce. Make sure to properly clean the cutting board, knife and preparation area. Wash your juicing machine carefully after each use with hot soapy water according to the manufacturer's directions. Just rinsing it out won't do!
     
  • Drink Now, Not Later!  Freshly made juices and smoothies are highly perishable since no preservatives or pasteurization is used.  So drink or freeze your mixture shortly after juicing or blending. If you can't consume it all, freeze the leftovers immediately in ice cube trays and then pop them into freezer bags. These make great additions to smoothies later!
The bottom line? When enjoyed in moderation, fresh-squeezed juice is a tasty way to obtain vitamins and minerals in liquid form. However, the best way to lose weight and promote optimal health is to eat a well-balanced diet that comprises all of the food groups.
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