With fall being an unofficial reset for many, you also may be feeling the urge to tweak your lifestyle and strive for a healthier one this time of year. And with the wellness practice of juicing continuing to pick up steam within the clean food movement — just peep your Instagram feed, which undoubtedly is filled with people snapping photos of brightly colored concoctions — this may seem like a good place to start. Or is it? Yes, many brands and health fanatics might tout the plethora of benefits in pure juices from vitamin-packed fruits and veggies, but is it actually a valid practice to adopt and, more importantly, does it actually result in a healthier lifestyle?
“Commonly held beliefs, which are not true, include that juicing can lead to clearer skin, more energy, a ‘detoxification’ of your body, supercharged intake of vitamins and minerals and healthier bowels,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, founder of Essence Nutrition in Miami and resident dietitian for the Miami Marlins, to TZR. Said beliefs have led to a full-blown movement that includes everything from luxury juice brands to dedicated standalone shops around the world. (In lieu of coffee dates, people are opting for the healthier “juice date” at the local juice bar. That’s how far this phenomenon has come.)
Popular for its quick and easy route to stocking up on nutrition — taking seconds to process in a juicer or pick up at your local convenience store or grocery shop — this cold-pressed detoxing elixir entails squeezing out the natural juice or pulp from a fruit or vegetable. However, there have also been some widely held assumptions that surround this practice, which many health pros say are false. “Many consumers believe that juicing fruits and vegetables are superior to just eating plain old fruits and vegetables and that simply isn’t true,” said Brittany Modell, a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor based in New York, to TZR. “When you juice fruits and vegetables, you actually extract the fiber, which is really beneficial for gut health, heart health, and management of blood.”
In addition, though some juicers reserve the pulp, many are missing it. This actually does not allow for proper absorption, says Dr. Cynthia Barrett, certified nutrition specialist and founder and CEO of Wellness Couture in New York, which specializes in gut microbiome testing. “The downside of juicing is that you are missing the most vital nutritious parts of the fruit found in the seeds, pulp, and skin,” says Dr. Barrett to TZR, adding that the same goes for vegetables. “When you take out the fiber, you are not able to process and digest those nutrients efficiently. For example, when chewing on a piece of fruit, the first part of digestion happens in your mouth, when an enzyme called amylase is released, helping to break down the carbohydrates in fruit.” From there, she explains, amylase then sends a signal to both your stomach and small intestines to release other enzymes like protease, which breaks down proteins, and lipase, which breaks down fats.
“Just drinking the juice gives your digestive track no time to prime the release of digestive enzymes for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients,” says Dr. Barrett. Furthermore, she says, when juice goes straight to the stomach and small intestine, this spikes your blood sugar because the fiber from the fruit or vegetable is missing that would normally help slow down the process of digestion, hence avoiding said blood sugar spike.
Speaking of sugar, since juices (particularly fruit-infused varieties) can contain super-high sugar content, Caroll Lee, founder and CEO of Provenance Meals, an organic, prepared meal delivery service in New York and Los Angeles, suggests checking the ingredients in your bottled concoction. “Twenty-four grams of sugar is the recommended daily allowance for women,” says Lee, who is also a certified health coach, to TZR. “Some of these bottles contain 45 grams of sugar. You really have to read the labels.”
A healthier solution is to juice at home using either a slow juicer, centrifugal juicer or citrus juicer. Not only do you have more control in the ingredient selection, but it’s also less expensive than store-bought juice, which can cost up to $15 a bottle. When juicing from home, Lee recommends staying away from apples, grapes, and pineapples that have especially high sugar contents. Instead, she suggests opting for low-carb vegetables such as “cucumbers, celery, and even herbs like cilantro, parsley, or basil” and adding in chia seeds for an extra superfood that’s high in fiber, easy to digest, and absorbs over 10 times their weight in water.
According to Dr. Barrett, you should also try adding in ingredients like bitter greens, including “mustard greens, arugula, and Brussel sprouts” as they are high in antioxidants. In addition, when choosing which fruits or vegetables to juice with, she says to notice their color. Each color nutrient offers a different phytonutrient, phytochemical, mineral, and antioxidant that spurs healing powers, making it easy for your “body to use proper cellular function the way it’s intended to.”
Nevertheless, even when made at home, juicing can still be unhealthy and an unpractical solution for long-term health benefits. Modell explains that while juicing and whole fruits may offer similar nutritional benefits, the fiber component is missing in the former, which is key to better digestion and absorption of said benefits.
That said, if you’re craving the natural drink, Modell recommends enjoying a smoothie instead. “First, smoothies can be versatile, and they often have fiber and protein,” said Modell. “I provide smoothie recipes all the time and I usually encourage some type of protein, fat, and carb to be included. For example, protein may be soy milk, nut butter, or Greek yogurt. Fat might include nut butter or avocados. Carbs may be rolled oats, fruits, and vegetables.”
Made using a blender versus a juicer, smoothies retain their vital nutrients and don’t throw away the pulp or fiber. And since the juice isn’t squeezed out, smoothies can have a more positive impact on the whole body, whereas juicing, according to Modell, “doesn’t offer any magical potion.”
However, if you genuinely enjoy the taste of juice and can get fiber from other sources, then Modell says there is nothing wrong with having it as part of your diet, especially post workout or on a hot day, as it’s a great alternative to super sugary soft drinks and coffees. It’s only when we restrict solid foods that our bodies go into survival mode. This can build up cortisol, which is a stress hormone, and is not beneficial for bodies in the long term. Which is why relying on juicing as a cleanse or even meal replacement can lead to problems.
Modell goes on to explain that what happens is the metabolism slows down in order to compensate and adapt. In addition, if you aren’t getting enough energy, your body can shut down to conserve energy for other vital organs. “When we are in survival mode, our brain also sends out chemicals to encourage us to seek large amounts of food for survival, which leads to an increase in food cravings,” says Modell. “In summary, our bodies will do everything it can to bring ourselves out of the danger zone and back to our natural set point range.”
To avoid this, Modell believes that people should have full body autonomy. “This means, if you enjoy drinking juices, you should,” but do so as a supplement to your regular meals and daily diet. “An occasional juice can be a refreshing splurge,” seconds Moreno, who notes that juicing with greens, vegetables, and lemon can offer health benefits like hydration and is a worthwhile purchase or option for a “high-performance athlete who prefers a homemade rehydration solution, akin to a [healthier] Gatorade-esque drink.”