You may have noticed that nutrition experts are constantly trumpeting the importance of eating more brightly colored fruits and vegetables as a path toward optimal health. This love affair stems from the knowledge that these food groups have soaring levels of disease-thwarting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. But few people are eating enough kale and blueberries to reap their rewards. This is why some consider juicing as an easy way to work more fruits and veggies into their lives. If your diet consistently comes up short, why not just push a pound of produce through a juicer and drink your way to nutritional bliss? A swarm of celebs are doing it, so why shouldn’t you?
Juicing, not to be confused with blending smoothies or the Sunny D you buy at the supermarket, does offer a convenient, efficient way to get a little closer to your fruit and vegetable intake goal. A delicious way to side-step salad burnout. And there is something oh-so refreshing about freshly made juice that makes you feel a few years younger with each sip. But juicing isn’t perfect nutrition and there are a handful of things you should be aware of before you drink up. Here’s the lowdown on the big squeeze.
1. Juicing is not the same as blending
Blenders crush contents with fast, spinning blades, and the resulting mixture is typically thick, with much pulp. In contrast, juicers pulverize veggies and separate out pulp and fiber, making for a thinner drink. So a smoothie made in a blender is not the same as juice made in a juicer, and vice versa. Flavor, texture and nutrition will differ between juicing and blending. Got it?
2. Yes, juicing is a healthy habit
Juicing is an easy way to shower your body with a tidal wave of plant-based nutrients and phytochemicals that you may otherwise not be getting enough of. For instance, if you juice beets you’ll take in high amounts of their nitrates that can help dilate blood vessels resulting in better blood pressure numbers. Squeeze the heck out of kale and you will get a payload of beta-carotene, a nutrient in the carotenoid family linked to healthier aging. By experimenting with different blends, you’ll be exposed to a wider range of fruits and vegetables which, in turn, brings a greater diversity of nutrients to your diet. Refreshing and nutritious all in one.
Plus, homemade juice drinks are automatically low in ingredients you want to be eating less of, including added sugars.
3. No, juices are not a replacement for eating whole veggies and fruits
Ignore the weight loss, toxin-flushing promises of ill-advised, no-fun juice cleanse diets. For optimal nutrition and health, the majority of your fruit and veggie intake should come from those in the whole form. This way you’ll have a better chance of getting the necessary amount of fiber required for good health. Though they contain various nutrients and phytochemicals, juices are bereft of fiber—the pulp left after juicing fruits and vegetables is where the fiber is found.
And if you go too heavy on juicing there is a chance you’ll go overboard on sugar which could set you up for metabolic issues. Yes, this is naturally occurring sugar and not something you need to avoid, but when it is not packaged with fiber it can lead to blood sugar issues if consumed too liberally. Sharp rises in blood sugar can contribute to fluctuating energy levels as well as encourage body fat storage. Cup for cup, juices will be much more concentrated in sugar than whole fruits and vegetables.
Another drawback: Liquid calories do not have the same satiating power as whole, solid foods, which makes it harder to keep your overall calorie intake in check. Drink a cup of homemade juice and you likely won’t feel as full afterward as you will after gnawing on a salad. So watch out if juicing typically leaves you feeling ravenous and snacking more often on less healthy foods.
The take-home message here is that the healthiest way to enjoy juices is when they are incorporated into a well-balanced diet full of whole foods.
4. Not all juicing is created equal
Juicing can alter the levels of health-hiking phytochemicals and antioxidants in raw vegetables by exposing inner tissues to oxygen, light and heat and releasing enzymes. Investigators at Texas A&M University discovered that low-speed juicing, which produces less heat, generated the highest amounts of beneficial compounds, although exceptions were found for certain vegetables. It was also shown that using a low-speed juicer tended to produce a drink with more diverse metabolites than that made with high-speed juicing. This study in the journal Food Science and Biotechnology found that the household juicing method impacted the antioxidant activity of grape juice, with a low-speed masticating juicer outperforming a high-speed centrifugal machine.
Knowing this, if you plan to make juicing a habit, consider investing in a masticating juicer, which employs a screw-like mechanism to crush and squeeze out the juice from your fruits and vegetables. This slow-mo, cold-pressed method maximizes juice extraction and preserves more nutrients and flavor along the way. Two good options are the Hurom H2 Easy Clean Slow Juicer or the Nutribullet Slow Juicer.
5. Homemade juice is likely better than store-bought
Another reason to plug in the juicer: A big part of the nutritional bang of juicing comes from drinking it fresh. Bottles of juices that have been sitting on store shelves for days or weeks have likely seen their nutrient numbers diminish, especially if bottled in clear packaging. Also, some commercially prepared juices have been pasteurized and this heat treatment can also have a detrimental impact on nutrient density by reducing heat-sensitive nutrients and other beneficial phytochemical compounds.
6. You don’t have to chug it all at once
There is a lot of rhetoric that unless you drink your juice in the seconds after pressing you’ll short-change yourself nutritionally. But making single-serving juices every day can feel like a
chore. So you should know that there is some evidence that cold-press juices can hold onto much of their nutrition for a few days after they are made when stored in a home refrigerator.
If time constraints are an excuse for keeping your juicer buried in the kitchen cabinet behind the never used pasta maker, try making up large batches at once. Just be sure to store your juice in an airtight container in the fridge. Besides, juices taste even better when served chilled.
7. Lean on vegetables
Fruit-heavy juices can have an avalanche of sugary calories. Besides, daily most people do a better job at meeting their fruit needs than vegetable needs. So instead of jamming all the fruits you can into the feed tube, strike a better balance between fruits and vegetables. Strive for at least an equal ratio between the two, and don’t forget that herbs go towards the veggie count. This will help keep the total sugar content under control.
8. Juicing can cost a pretty penny
By nature, juicing calls upon the use of large amounts of fruits and vegetables, which can cause your grocery bill to inflate, especially in these times of food inflation. And quality juicers don’t come cheap. For this reason, try shopping for your juicing ingredients at your local farmers’ market where you are more likely to find a better product for better prices.
9. The clean up is a pain
No matter the model, cleaning out a juicer is more laborious than a blender. This reason alone is why many people fall off the juicing wagon. If you decide to commit to juicing you are also committing to more time hovering over the sink. It’s always best to wash the various parts of a juicer immediately after juicing to avoid the need to scrap off welded-on dried pulp.
10. You might be drinking some not-so-good stuff
Juicing requires greater amounts of vegetables or fruits than if you were just eating them, therefore you could be exposing yourself to more of everything, including the good, such as vitamins and minerals, and the bad, such as pesticides. But to date, there is not much reliable data to say that juicing conventional produce is going to expose you to potentially dangerous levels of chemicals. One small study showed that home juicing apples reduced their levels of a certain pesticide residue because the skin and core were removed. Few people can afford to juice only store-bought organic produce and it’s likely the health benefits of drinking fresh juice from conventional fruits and vegetables outweighs the risk of pesticide exposure. So, yes, juice organic stuff if you can, but don’t fret about it too much if you can’t.
11. Pulp is not just compost
Excessive pulp is a major bone of contention for juicing naysayers. Oh, all that food waste and loss of dietary fiber. Thankfully, many modern machines are better than ever at limiting the pulp-to-juice ratio. Depending on how wet your pulp is after juicing, you can try feeding it back to the juicer to squeeze out even more liquid. And you should know there are many culinary things you can do with that fibrous pulp. After all, you paid good money for those fruits and vegetables, so be sure you are using them wholly. Blend pulp into smoothies and dips, add to veggie burgers, meatloaf and casseroles, stir it into pancake batter and baked goods like muffins, add pulp to scrambled eggs, or even use extra pulp to bolster the nutritional benefits of the grub you feed your dog.
12. Pump up the protein
To make juices more of a complete nutritional package or a post-workout muscle-builder, you can mix them with a scoop of protein powder. After a hard workout, this will give you a valuable combo of recovery carbs, protein and antioxidants. For best results, you may want to do this in a shaker cup or a blender.