To juice or not to juice, that is the question. While many health-conscious people have embraced juicing, I say it’s a trend that’s best embraced lightly. Although it might surprise see you, I think of a tall glass of fresh-pressed veggies and fruit as an occasional treat—like an indulgent dessert—rather than an everyday choice.
As with most quick-fix health crazes, there are always at least a few downsides to consider. Here’s some food for thought to help you consider how to juice smarter—or whether to do it at all:
1. Juice can be a sugar bomb.
Most bottled juices have enough sugar to stand toe-to-toe with a can of Mountain Dew. It doesn’t matter if they’re organic and refrigerated or conventional and off the shelf. Juices made from fruit, as well as veggies like beets and carrots, can add up to liquid dessert that sends you on a blood-sugar roller coaster.
Granted, with some very fresh, minimally processed juiced drinks, you’ll get some quickly absorbed nutrients. But the sugar spikes and troughs that come with the package typically aren’t worth the ride.
2. Juice isn’t the best source of fiber.
Juiced fruits and veggies are virtually fiber-free—all that good fiber gets left behind in the base of the juicer and tossed out. That’s a problem because fiber helps boost gut health and facilitates waste removal.
Although some think of juicing as a digestive aid, many people on a juice cleanse actually often have a problem with constipation!
3. Juice won’t keep you full.
OK, so we’ve established that your juice has a ton of sugar and not a lot of fiber. But it’s also missing fat and protein, both of which are key to feeling satiated. Without fat, protein, and fiber to fill your belly and signal to the brain that you’re done eating, you’re going to get mighty hungry, mighty fast.
4. Juice’s nutrients don’t last long.
How fresh is that bottled juice? The “sell-by” date will certainly give you a clue, but it’s not going to tell you how potent the nutrients in the bottle still are. Unfortunately, the nutrients that you hope to imbibe with every sip start degrading the moment they are exposed to light and air. In other words, if that drink has been sitting on your desk all afternoon, you may be getting far fewer antioxidants than you think.
5. Juicing can be wasteful.
Not to get up on a soapbox, but taking an armload of food that could feed a small family and pulverize it down to liquid form is, to say the least, wasteful. To be a bit kinder to the earth, you might want to consider eating the majority of your product instead of juicing it.
How to make juicing healthier:
In a perfect world, I’d say lay off the juices and eat as much whole food as possible. However, if decide you are going to drink a juice, here are some key tips to follow.
Make it yourself! That way, you can control the ingredients, portion size, sugar content, and freshness. When juicing, be sure to:
- Skip high-sugar fruits, such as pineapples, mangoes, bananas, etc.
- Go heavy on the greens.
- Use lemons, limes, green apples, ginger, mint, and turmeric to add guilt-free flavor.
- Keep in mind that juicing for weight-loss or detox is not a healthy approach, nor is it sustainable. Instead, try an elimination diet.
If you’re buying an off-the-shelf juice drink, read the label:
- Check how many servings there are per bottle. Some bottles have two to three servings, and you can wind up drinking far more sugar than you intended.
- Check the grams of sugar per serving. If it’s more than 6 grams, skip it altogether or cut some of the juice with seltzer or water.
- Check the grams of fiber. Many bottled juices have none at all, which is bad news for your body, particularly if you’re trying to keep blood sugar stable.
- Be sure the drink is made with certified organic, minimally processed ingredients.
If you’re ordering at a juice bar, be sure to:
- Look for organic ingredients, so your drink is as free of chemical pesticides as possible.
- Ask the barista not to sweeten your drink with fruit juices like apple, orange, grape, and so on.
- If you prefer a sweeter drink, add a little stevia or touch of raw honey.
Juicing isn’t actually good for you and your diet is probably dumb
Full disclosure: I don’t really get juicing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve slurped down some delicious veggie and ginger concoctions and done my fair share of shots of lemon and turmeric. But spending 10 bucks on—or trying to replace breakfast with—a beverage that essentially amounts to cold, sugary soup has just never sounded appealing.
Still, there’s no accounting for taste, and I don’t begrudge folks who enjoy sipping on cold carrot water. But don’t pretend that juicing is good for you.
Researchers have tackled the pervasive myths of juice-related health benefits in a study published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. In an attempt to cut through the confusion surrounding research on nutrition, the study authors reviewed existing reports on various fad diets looking for any sign of actual benefit. Many of these popular dietary choices are supported by the “evidence” of a single study or two, meaning the results haven’t been replicated by enough scientists to be taken as truth. Others are based on industry-funded studies that are likely biased or are based on research that relied on self-reported surveys, where folks are known to lie about—or simply misremember—their eating habits.
Unsurprisingly, the cardiologists focused on the effects of fad diets on heart health. But let’s be real: if your diet is bad for your heart, can you even pretend it’s “healthy”? Nah.
Juicing was called out for its tendency to sneak extra sugar—and calories—into your diet. When you juice a fruit, you remove the healthful fiber contained therein. You’re basically just drinking sugar water with some vitamins in it. You’d be better off eating a few carrots and apples than drinking a whole grocery cart worth of fruits and veggies in one sitting.
“There are things that you’re going to have in the whole fruit that you can’t get into the juice,” Keith Ayoob of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who wasn’t involved in the new study, told ABC. “Also the other side is to remember that your gut is a great juicer, it just works more slowly. Let your teeth and digestive tract do what it’s supposed to do. And the fiber in fruits and vegetables is critical to a healthy diet.”
And that leads us to another important point: detoxing. If you’re drinking fruit juice instead of eating real food, you might roll your eyes at a doctor’s warning about sugar and calories—after all, you’re going to consume fewer calories overall if you drink 50 carrots a day than if you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But your body is perfectly capable of filtering out “toxins” without a juice cleanse, and juicing in this manner might actually make your body filter out the bad stuff more slowly. Meanwhile, all those sugar spikes will do a real number on you, and could actually make it harder for you to lose weight in the long run.
Lest you think the researchers just have it in for kale juice, the study’s disclosure of conflicts of interest actually reveals that one of the authors serves as a scientific advisor for Pressed Juicery. Dr. Miller is clearly not shilling for Big Juice. Dr. Miller is gonna tell it like it is.
But juicing wasn’t the only dietary fad to attract the researchers’ ire:
The study also takes a stab at coconut oil, a much-lauded “healthy” fat. The oil has more saturated fat than even butter or lard, but its popularity has surged in recent years due to many reports of health benefits.
But “current claims of documented health benefits of the tropical oils are unsubstantiated,” according to the new study, “and use of these oils should be discouraged.”
And then there’s gluten. Hoo boy, gluten. The study authors conclude that—unless you have a wheat allergy, celiac disease, or are one of the six percent of the population that has some other type of sensitivity to this wheat protein—there’s no sound evidence that cutting gluten out of your diet has any health benefit. But unlike the whole juicing thing, there’s no harm in avoiding gluten if you really want to—as long as you’re not filling up the resulting gaps in your daily food intake with foods high in calories or cholesterol.
The bottom line? Any diet that has you swapping food for sugar water is probably misguided. And while your daily dietary needs may vary, you probably already know what a heart-healthy diet looks like leafy greens, fresh fruits, and taking it easy when it comes to calories.
All in all, the analysis is a good reminder of just how confusing it can be to navigate the landscape of nutritional research. Just remember: a single study doesn’t mean anything. Scientists need to reproduce the same results over and over again, in different circumstances and settings, to determine how likely something is to hold true. So stop worrying about new research praising the health benefits of wine or demonizing your favorite wheat product. Instead, stick to the things you know are healthy—and enjoy the rest in moderation.