Juicing is a debated topic in the nutrition world, with some experts touting its many benefits, and others asserting that it does more harm than good. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of juicing and juice fasting for a better understanding of who can benefit.
What is juicing?
This seems like an obvious question, but many confuse juicing with smoothies. Juicing specifically removes the juice of fruits and vegetables and discards the solid matter. It yields a vitamin- and mineral-rich juice, but eliminates the fiber and other nutrients provided by the pulp. Certain juices, like orange or grapefruit juice, can simply be prepared by hand, while most others require a juicer.
If you are in the market for a juicer, a cold pressed juicer is your best bet, as these machines process the juice at a slower speed that avoids exposing delicate nutrients and enzymes to heat, which can degrade the final product.
Many people use juicing for detoxing or cleansing purposes, where solid food is eliminated and replaced with juices throughout the day. These cleanses might last from 24 hours to many weeks.
If you have a diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, juicing can certainly add a much-needed boost of nutrition.
Pros of juicing
Studies show that the average American is sorely lacking in essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and juicing is a safe and effective way to remedy this situation. Due to factors such as soil degradation, food processing methods and time from cultivation to market, a lot of produce is less nutrient-dense than it used to be.
While whole fruits and vegetables have all of the same health benefits of juice (and more), juicing is an easy way to take in a concentrated form of vital nutrients.
Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavanoids and other compounds in fresh fruits and vegetables both help to prevent and treat disease. Again, you can get all of these same benefits from whole foods, but if that proves difficult, juicing is a good option.
One study found that adults who regularly drank mixed fruit and veggie juice over a 14 week period had high levels of several important nutrients including: folate, selenium, vitamins C and E and beta carotene. Another study suggested that juicing could lessen oxidative markers in the body, which are linked to heart problems.
Juicing is also used therapeutically for patients with serious digestive problems who cannot break down foods, such as those with Crohn’s or Irritable Bowel Disease, and even cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Cons of juicing
Eating fruits and vegetables in their whole form is better than juicing, assuming you have no major digestive issues. Multiple studies have shown (such as this one looking specifically at apples) that in order to reap the full benefit of plant foods, it is best to eat the fiber content. And it’s not just fiber found in the solid matter; there are also antioxidants bound to the fiber that are also lost in the juicing process.
While juicing might be useful alongside a whole foods diet, the fiber from fruits and vegetables is critical to health. Fiber supports healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels, lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and is important for weight management because it increases satiety.
In some cases, smoothies (blending the entire fruit) can be better than juicing because the fiber and antioxidant content is still consumed, but the verdict is still out as to whether the health benefits remain the same. Similar to juices, smoothies will lead to a greater blood sugar spike, as compared to whole fruits and vegetables.
What about juicing for detox?
Juice cleanses and detox programs have become quite popular for those wanting to lose weight, but using them for this purpose is not as effective as you might think. Most juice cleanses severely restrict calories, which leads to rapid weight loss (but generally also results in rapid weight gain post-cleanse). You also risk slowing your metabolism in the long term.
A general rule with juicing, during a cleanse or not, is to include mostly vegetables. Fruit heavy juices can increase your risk of metabolic syndrome (a condition that can cause diabetes and cardiovascular disease), are extremely hard on the liver and can lead to weight gain. Also, be sure to choose organic produce, as your intake of pesticides and herbicides could very well undermine your detoxing efforts.
Juice cleansing for 24 hours is one thing, but longer cleanses often lead to blood sugar imbalances, dizziness, extreme fatigue and metabolic damage. They can also be dangerous for those taking certain prescription drugs, and for people with kidney problems (always check with your doctor if you fall into these categories).
Lastly, if given the right nutrients from whole foods and through the elimination of processed and packaged foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, your body is designed to effectively detoxify itself via the liver and kidneys. A gentle food-based cleanse that includes healthy protein, fat and plenty of fruits and vegetables is best.
So, what’s the verdict on juicing?
Most studies agree that whole vegetables and fruits are nutritionally superior to juicing. But, if you are a relatively healthy adult with no major digestive issues, diseases or blood sugar imbalances, incorporating juice into your regular diet or undergoing a short term juice fast could be beneficial. With all nutrition trends, doing your research and looking at the facts can help you decide which are worth paying attention to.