Drinking Your Veggies Vs. Eating Them — Experts Weigh In On The Great Debate
While the health world is always abuzz with the latest and greatest trend, juices and smoothies aren't exactly new. But while pressed and blended beverages can be found in health clubs and kitchens across the globe, the question remains: Is it better to drink or eat your veggies? And, is there a right and a wrong way to juice and blend?
For starters, experts agree that juicing has its place, but to reap the most nutrients, blending is better. "If you juice vegetables, you lose the fiber, which is a very nutritious part of the vegetable," clarifies Leigh Tracy, a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. However, "If you blend them, you are not losing any nutrients."
Still, she warns that fruit and veggie mixes can easily turn into dessert-like concoctions, so it's important to stick with healthy smoothie recipes. "What tends to happen with smoothies, however, is people will add more fruit into the shake than they would typically consume if eating it whole, which can lead to more sugar in the shake and higher calories," she says. "Even though the sugar is natural, it can still spike the blood sugar."
Still, sipping your greens on-the-go can reap serious benefits — if you do it right. Ahead, three health experts share the pros and cons of drinking your veggies versus eating them whole. If you're wondering whether drinking fresh produce will give you a nutrient boost, read on; but as always, before making any big dietary changes, consult with your physician, first.
The Case For Drinking Your Veggies
Unleashing More Nutrient Power: “Vegetables are complicated,” begins Dr. NavNirat Nibber, ND and Medical Advisor at Advanced Orthomolecular Research. “They often have tough, fibrous exteriors protecting them from the elements. As you peel back each layer, you discover new nutrients: proteins, flavonoids, vitamins, and more. Flax seed, for example, needs to be freshly ground to release beneficial oils, and also the ground fibers are an effective soluble fibre source.”
While these nutrients are extremely beneficial, she says they must be extracted from the outer walls, which is normally done through chewing. And while you’re probably not planning on swallowing your broccoli whole, eating too fast (maybe you’re rushing to mow down on your lunch break) means you may not be reaping all the benefits. “By blending vegetables, we are basically initiating that mechanical breakdown of food [by] cutting out one step,” Dr. Nibber points out. “This can be particularly beneficial for individuals on-the-go who aren’t really chewing their food.”
Jen Berliner, CEO of the vegetable drink company Medlie, adds that the quick digestion process also makes nutrients more readily available. “Blending and then drinking your veggies can often make it easier for your body to process and maximize their amazing nutrients,” she says.
Tracy also mentions that making your own blend can be preferable to pill-form supplements, too (again, unless advised by a doc). "I always recommend getting nutrients from food first," she says. "Since supplements are not regulated, the manufacturer does not need to disclose all of the supplement's ingredients and can be misleading. A smoothie made with the whole fruits or vegetables is going to have more vitamins and minerals versus consuming a supplement that contains just one nutrient."
Easier on digestion: Turns out, getting a head start on the breakdown process can also benefit those with digestion issues. “With blending, you’re removing the need for your stomach to do the hard work of breaking vegetables down itself,” says Berliner. “Cruciferous vegetables like kale and cauliflower, have amazing benefits, but can often be especially hard on the digestive system. [This can] lead to upset or bloat, so blending these, in particular, is an amazing way to maintain their important role in your diet.”
Dr. Nibber adds that those who “are enzyme- or acid-deficient and unable to properly chemically break down foods” may benefit from blending produce. Further, she says, it can help give malfunctioning digestive systems a chance to repair themselves (and in this case, your doctor’s guidance is absolutely essential).
Some issues to consider: “Do you have a lot of inflammation? See a lot of undigested food in stools?" asks Dr. Nibber. "Juicing and blending may provide a good interim solution as you address and heal the gut to optimize function." However, above all else, “it really needs to be done for a specific period of time, or in conjunction with more well-balanced meals," again, with your doctor's advice.
Cons To Consider
Sugar Overload: Sugars, whether from produce or a candy bar, can cause blood sugar spikes, a big reason that Medlie products focus on veggies instead of fruit (and remember, certain vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes can contain a lot of sugar, too). "We were inspired to provide a better alternative to fiberless juices and sugar bomb smoothies by truly embracing the vegetable,” she says of the brand. “Rather than trying to hide a little kale amidst too much mango and apple, we want to celebrate the flavor of kale, avocado, tomatoes, carrots and more — making it tasty and easy for people to fit these veggies into their busy lives.”
Dr. Nibber agrees that packing health drinks with too much sugar is a big of liquifying produce and a common mistake that people make. Further, pulverizing produce (especially when it comes to juices vs. smoothies) can lead to “flooding the system with nutrients and sugars," she says. “[This means] you can get the spike in blood sugars rather than a slower-timed release, as you would with eating them.”
Potential Digestion Dysfunction: Dr. Nibber brings up another point: The long-term, easy digestion of blended veggies can throw off the digestive system, especially if smoothies completely replace whole-form produce. “We should also be aware that when we juice, we may be putting this clever mechanism called the migrating motor complex (MMC) at risk of dysfunction,” she explains. “The MMC is the term for the housekeeper of our GI tract [which accounts for] the muscular contractions that keep a bolus of food [the chewed food] moving in the right direction. When it becomes sluggish, food lingers and we are more susceptible to things like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.” She continues, “Think about it as a factory line: the conveyor belt (the MMC) needs something weighted to land on it to trigger it to move, i.e., a bolus of food or fecal matter."
This weighted material activates the conveyor belt moving everything forward, enabling absorption and processing for removal. If that weighted material isn’t heavy enough, it becomes less responsive. So the MMC sometimes moves forward too soon while other times will not respond at all; long-term juicing may desensitize that sensor for your MMC.”
Conclusion: Moderation Is Key (Of Course): As always, it’s imperative to speak with your doctor about making any major dietary changes. Unless otherwise advised by a medical professional, it’s probably best not to do away with chewing your greens entirely, but in general, using liquified veggies to supplement your diet definitely has its benefits.
Wondering if the drink-your-produce approach is right for you? Dr. Nibber offers some final advice. “It's important to understand the goal of juicing: Are you doing it exclusively, or is it an adjunct to actual meals? Are you repairing inflammation or intestinal damage? Do you have no other way of getting nutrients from foods?” she asks. “Be specific about goals and make sure you are taking a balanced approach."