Juice, Juice, and more Juice

ThinkStock photo via Tri County Health Department

Over the years, juicing has emerged as a popular health movement in the United States. Common reasons people juice are to:

  • Lose weight
  • Cleanse or detoxify the body
  • Increase nutrient consumption from fruits and vegetables
  • Increase energy levels
  • Have clear, glowing skin
  • Strengthen the immune system

These alleged benefits of juicing have been widely covered in the media and on the internet. However, are these claimed benefits evidence-based? Is there any supporting research to suggest that juicing provides any unique health benefits? If so, do the benefits outweigh the costs? After performing an extensive search for scholarly articles in reliable databases and peer-reviewed journals, I found no research indicating that juicing, by itself, leads to weight loss.

Therefore, before setting out to buy a juicer, it is important to understand what juicing entails.  The term “juicing” or “juice cleanse” commonly refers to a period of 3-10 days, during which a person has a diet consisting mainly of fruit and vegetable juices. It is true that juicing is a sufficient way to increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet that already includes whole fruits and vegetables. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) states, “Juicing should not be used to meet basic nutrition needs, as it significantly reduces the amount of fiber you get from a vegetable or fruit”. Whole fruits and vegetables are a great source of fiber and often times, the skin of fruits and vegetables house many of the vitamins and minerals. When running produce through a juicer, the majority of the fiber and some of the nutrients are lost. The main point here is that juicing is not the solution to a poor diet. It is recommended that the average person consume at least 4-5 servings of fruits or vegetables per day. Once this goal is met, juicing may be a good way to supplement your diet with extra nutrients.

AND brings up another good point about the safety of that freshly squeezed juice. Fruit and vegetable juices bought from the grocery store are further processed to eliminate pathogens that are potentially harmful. When juice is not pasteurized, any bacteria present on the fruit or vegetable can become part of that finished product. Therefore, when juicing at home, it is extremely important to be extra careful to thoroughly wash the produce before preparing it to be juiced. To read more about how to make safe freshly squeezed juice at home, follow this link.

photo from ThinkStock via Tri County Health Department

Not only is washing the produce an important step in making safe juice, but properly cleaning the juicer is a vital task as well. If the juicer is not thoroughly cleaned after each use, bacteria can grow in the hard to reach places. Be aware that practically every juicer is difficult to clean, however, some are easier than others. In general, masticating juicers and twin gear (Triturating) juicers are the easiest to clean compared to centrifugal juicers and vertical masticating juicers. Make sure that the juicer has a cleaning brush that comes with it as this tool is crucial in removing the excess pulp. Speaking of pulp, for those who do not have a compost pile, disposing of the excess residue and scraps could be challenging and lead to smelly trash.

Another factor to take into consideration before juicing, is that it can be expensive. Juicers range in cost from $50-$500 and can only be used for one purpose, juicing fruits and vegetables. That is a lot of money to spend on a single kitchen appliance with only one use. Not only is the equipment expensive, the produce can also be costly. In order to make 8-ounces of carrot juice, one would have to buy 1.25 pounds of carrots, and to yield 6-ounces of kale juice, it takes 0.75 pounds of kale. To put that into perspective, 0.75 pounds of kale would be about four large stalks that are each about eight inches long. So there is the initial expense of the juicer, but there is also the continued expense of produce.

To recap, juicing fruits and vegetables decreases the amount of fiber, could potentially be unsanitary and is very expensive. Additionally, there is a limited body of research that examines the effects juicing has on the body. So, there is no proof that juicing, by itself, has health benefits. However, there has been some conversation around how juicing might be beneficial for oncology patients. The theory behind this is that juicing provides the body with concentrated phytonutrients, high electrolyte water, carotenoids, antioxidants, and enzymes which assist in cleansing the liver and kidney’s.

Depending on your needs and goals, smoothies might be a healthier and more affordable alternative to juicing. Blenders are much cheaper than juicers and can be used for a variety of purposes. The options for smoothie recipes are endless and it is easy to incorporate all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat). Ideas for protein sources to add to a smoothie might include milk, nut-butters, certain types of seeds, and protein powder. Often times, these protein sources will have healthy fat content as well.

If you do choose to supplement your already balanced diet with juice, there are many recipes and a variety of fruits and vegetables to pick from. Below is a recipe for Green Power Juice which is high in Vitamin C.

  • 8-10 large kale leaves
  • 4-6 sticks of celery
  • 1 cucumber
  • 3 green apples
  • ½ lemon

This recipe would yield 3-4 cups of juice and would be high in vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium. Despite the high micronutrient content of this drink, it is important to remember that following a juice fast for a prolonged period of time would result in a diet deficient in protein and fat. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that for the average person, the ideal ranges for each macronutrient per day in percentage of total calories are 45-65% from carbohydrates, 10-35% from protein, and 20-35% from fat. Everyone should aim to get a little of each macronutrient in at every meal to help achieve this goal.

Due to the gap in knowledge about how juicing may influence the body, consult a Registered Dietitian before beginning an intense juicing cleanse, especially if there are previous health issues or concerns.

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