Experience Life Magazine

Smart Juicing

Trying to eat more veggies and fruits? Here’s what the experts say about the pros and cons of juicing.

Smart Juicing

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We should all be eating more fresh vegetables. In the best of all possible worlds, we’d enjoy fresh organic produce from our gardens several times a day. In the real world, however, it can be challenging to meet that quota. If your diet consistently comes up short on this front, many experts agree that juicing your produce can help you increase your intake.

We’re not talking about commercial juice drinks here (no hypersweet fruit-punch-style concoctions), but vibrant, nutrient-packed refreshments made primarily with hearty vegetables — kale, broccoli and sweet peppers, for example — and perhaps a little fresh fruit added mostly for flavor.

“I see juicing as an easy, delicious way to get a big bowl of vegetables, fast,” says Seattle-based nutritionist Cherie Calbom, MS, author of several books on the subject, including The Juice Lady’s Turbo Diet (Siloam, 2010). “It’s fast food on the go that can also help prevent disease. There’s a lot of controversy about supplements, but there’s no controversy about eating a lot of vegetables.”

Juicing, not to be confused with blending smoothies (see “Juices vs. Smoothies,” below), is best done at home to guarantee the freshness and quality of your ingredients.

“At home you can control the authenticity of the organic certification,” says nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, author of The Fast Track Detox Diet (Broadway Books, 2006). “And, you will get a sense of what works for your body and how to tailor your recipes.”

Another reason to plug in the juicer: A big part of the nutritional bang of juicing comes from drinking it fresh. Almost all commercially prepared drinks have been pasteurized, says functional nutritionist Julie Starkel, MS, MBA, RD. That process can destroy vital enzymes and heat-sensitive nutrients. So, when possible, opt for juicing at home versus hitting the nearest grocery store.

While juicing vegetables and fruits offers you a great way to augment your intake of fresh produce, it’s important to remember that even the best juices can’t replace whole foods. “It makes sense to eat whole vegetables and fruits for many reasons, including fiber,” says Elson Haas, MD, an integrative-health physician in San Rafael, Calif., and the author of The New Detox Diet (Celestial Arts, 2004).

Still, given how few of us currently get the five to nine daily servings of fresh produce that most health experts recommend, juicing does offer a convenient, efficient way to get a little closer to that goal.

If you’re ready to start sipping your way to better health, here’s what you need to know.

Juice Smart

Here are some guidelines for turning fresh produce into liquid-nutrition gold.

Balance veggies and fruits. Because they’re easier to grab and eat on the run, people tend to eat more fruits than vegetables. So when you’re juicing, says Kathie Swift, MS, RD, LDN, coauthor of The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health (Rodale, 2011), strive for a ratio of at least three parts veggies to one part fruit. This will also help keep the total sugar content under control.

Sweeten judiciously. “For most people, hearty greens, such as kale, beet tops, parsley and chard, are bitter on their own,” says Swift. “If juicing in a little fruit doesn’t sweeten your concoction, try a spice like cinnamon or allspice.” If that’s still not enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, drizzle in a few drops of honey or maple syrup.

Drink promptly. It’s best to enjoy your juice immediately after it’s made. Nutrient damage and loss starts as soon as the liquid is exposed to oxygen. (Think about how quickly a sliced apple or avocado starts to go brown.) “The enzymes disappear over time, so it’s best to drink within 15 minutes,” says Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, author of The Fast Track Detox Diet (Broadway Books, 2006). If that’s not possible, store it briefly in a mason jar with a tight seal. And while speed is of the essence, it’s important not to gulp your juice. Swishing and “chewing” the liquid before swallowing helps jump-start digestion and maximize both nutritional assimilation and satiety.

Maintain quality control. Make a point of sticking to organic produce whenever possible. “Juicing requires greater amounts of vegetables or fruits than if you were just eating them, therefore you are exposing yourself to more of everything, including the good, such as vitamins, minerals and enzymes, and the bad, such as pesticides and synthetic fertilizers,” says nutritionist Julie Starkel, MS, MBA, RD. Also, try to use the most nutritious varieties you can find. “I personally concentrate on vegetables that are higher in minerals and rich in beta-carotene such as kale, cabbage, romaine and dandelion greens,” says Gittleman.  “Also, celery is a must; it’s very healing for the system.”

Waste not. “I save all the plant parts I don’t cook,” says Cherie Calbom, MS, author of The Juice Lady’s Turbo Diet (Siloam, 2010). “The bases of cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus juice up perfectly, as do the stems and leaves of beets.”

Buy the right tools. Look for a juicer with a wide mouth — one that ejects the pulp and is easy to clean. Opinions differ on how much motor speed affects juice quality. Some experts believe that slow-extraction juicers don’t heat up the juice as much and don’t produce as much oxidation. But, says Calbom, “in the end, most people whom I work with are busy. So having a fast juicer can make the difference between them juicing every day and never juicing again.” As for blenders, keep in mind that they are not juicers, Calbom says. “Both appliances are good to have, but blenders simply cannot make juice,” she says. “They will only make smoothies and purées.”

Keep eating whole foods, too. No matter how much you get into juicing, you still want to keep up your intake of whole produce. “I encourage people to drink fresh juices and eat whole foods on a daily basis,” Calbom says. “This provides great nutrition, high fiber from the whole foods, and a well-rounded complement of micronutrients.”

Jumpin’ Juices

Favorite recipes from devoted juicers who want to help you jump-start your juicing habit . . . 

“Make Juice, Not War” Green Drink
From wellness coach Kris Carr: “It’s our motto and our morning beverage.”

  • 1 large cucumber (peeled if not organic)
  • A fistful of kale and romaine (or spinach, chard, etc.)
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 big broccoli stem (adds sweetness)
  • 1 pear or green apple (optional)

Carrot-Celery Blast
From nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD: “This juice cleanses the palate and provides a terrific energy boost; the celery provides some of the hardest-to-get mineral salts in a very palatable, easily absorbable way.”

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 small Granny Smith apple
  • Half a bunch of cilantro or parsley

Pretty and Pink
From 60-year-old model and pro-age cosmetics entrepreneur Cindy Joseph: “When it comes to juice, I am a purist. I like to taste one fruit or vegetable at a time.” In the fruit category, one of her favorites is watermelon. Just toss chunks (no rind) into a juicer and enjoy.

The Morning Energizer
From nutritionist Cherie Calbom, MS: “This combo delivers lots of zip to start your day. It’s loaded with beta-carotene, vitamin C, zinc and many other nutrients.”

  • 5 carrots
  • 1 beet with leaves and stem
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 cucumber
  • ¼ lemon, peeled
  • 1-to-2-inch piece of fresh gingerroot

Juices Vs. Smoothies

Juices

  • Easier Digestibility: Assimilating solid foods requires a lot of work by your digestive system. Not so with juiced veggies and fruits. Freed of pulp and fiber, juiced veggies deliver a fresh, superconcentrated supply of nutrients to cells and tissues with minimum transit time compared with solids, or even smoothies. Your bloodstream easily absorbs all those minerals, vitamins and enzymes, giving your gastrointestinal tract a vacation, says Cherie Calbom, MS, author of The Juice Lady’s Turbo Diet (Siloam, 2010). That’s why juice offers an instant energy infusion that most smoothies can’t. For those with compromised digestive systems (older people, for example, or people with celiac or other diseases), juices can be especially efficient.
  • Concentrated Nutrition: You can drink a lot more vegetable matter than you can eat. Calbom once set a timer while she ate five carrots. “It took me an hour,” she says. “My whole goal is to get people to consume lots and lots of vegetables that they wouldn’t normally consume.” Sure, you could throw vast amounts of kale, celery and Swiss chard into your smoothie, but it’s not going to taste that great. High-powered blenders, Calbom says, can’t handle the volume and texture of many vegetables. “People take juice recipes and put them in a blender and come out with a mushy, fibery concoction that’s not very palatable,” she explains. “I can’t even get everything I would normally juice into a blender — it’s just too much food.”
  • Healing Power: Nutritionally supervised, short-term juice “fasts” can increase your vitality, improve brain function, and even treat conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or rheumatoid arthritis, says Kathie Swift, MS, RD, LDN, coauthor of The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health (Rodale, 2011). “Sometimes a nutrient-dense, short-term juice fast can pave the path for a guided transition to nutritional rehab,” she says. Unlike slower-digesting smoothies, which may include a base of dairy, nuts or other non-produce options, pure juices are terrific at flushing out toxins. Still, Swift advises keeping juice fasts short — a few days — to avoid prolonged high-level exposure to certain nutrients.

Smoothies

  • High Fiber: Because smoothies typically blend a liquid base (water, milk, juice) with whole foods (such as berries, leafy greens, nuts, seeds and coconut), you get the benefit of those whole foods’ fiber and bulk. When you run a few pounds of carrots and spinach through a juicer, by contrast, a lot of pulp is left behind — and typically tossed in the compost pile or trash. While not particularly palatable in large doses, that pulpy stuff is filling, and it can also help encourage the elimination of bodily wastes. Fiber is also a vital element in a healthy diet, says Swift, so you don’t want to eliminate too much of it, even in the name of juicing. “I advise clients to enjoy both juices and smoothies, or to use a juicing device that includes some of the pulp, since both the fiber and phytonutrients in the pulp have real nutritional value.”
  • Slower Sugar Release: Pure juices (even veggie juices) can be rich in sugar, says Julie Starkel, MS, MBA, RD. “It’s natural sugar, but to the body, it’s sugar nonetheless. Therefore, if you consume large quantities of juice without some accompanying protein, you may bump up your blood sugars higher than you want.”Smoothies contain lots of sugars, too, but if you throw in some protein (nuts or protein powder, for example), extra fiber (flax or chia seeds) and fat (coconut, avocado, flaxseed oil, fish oil or coconut oil), in addition to whole vegetables and fruit, you’ll lower the glycemic index of your concoction and absorb nutrients much more slowly, she points out. Of course, this assumes you’re not using a lot of sweetened yogurt, fruit juices or other sugar bombs in your mix. But the net effect of a good smoothie is basically that of a liquified meal — one that can satisfy hunger for several hours.
  • Postworkout Support: If you need a recovery drink after your gym routine, pure juice won’t offer the protein required to speed muscle recovery — especially if you’ve just completed a high-intensity workout of at least 45 minutes. Postworkout, you’re especially susceptible to hunger, and, as noted, smoothies are generally more satiating than juice. Whirling up a smoothie with, say, plain yogurt, banana, and protein powder or nut butter can help replenish your electrolytes and glycogen stores. Because of the greater variety of ingredients used in smoothies, you can tailor a drink to meet very specific nutritional needs. “The carb-protein-fat macro-balance can be obtained,” says Swift, “and they can be a good calorie boost.” When possible, though, it’s best to avoid juice-bar smoothies (often made with cheap frozen yogurt or fruit-juice bases) and make your own from whole, organic foods.

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. Her favorite juice combo is kale-pear-banana-orange.

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14 Comment to Smart Juicing

  • Thanks for the very informative and detailed article. I can tell that you’ve done your homework. I prefer juicing much more than blending because it tastes much better! The nutribullet or some other blender-type machine always has so much pulp… I really prefer juicing a lot. My family has been getting into it since the documentary Fat Sick and Nearly Dead came out.

  • Scott says:

    How much nutritional value do juiced vegetables lose in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight? I’d like to juice all my vegetable drinks at night for the following day, and the day after, if the juice retains a high percentage of its nutritional value. Can anyone tell me or direct me to sources that give accurate information? Thank you for your kind help.

  • Nina Reeves says:

    I loved your article. I own a Vita Mix and enjoy what you call Smoothie at least once a day. I had a Juicer at one time, but find that the juice or smoothie I make is more satisfying that just making juice. What is your opinion on the Vita Mix. After my workout at Lifetime I usually have one of my drinks which I also add protein powder along with fruit and vegetable. Thanks

  • Kristine Benitez says:

    Im curious which nutrients we could possibly ‘get too much of’ when the expert said not to do too much juicing…and if theres too much, wouldnt our bodies just filter it out or no?

  • Judy says:

    I am just about ready to take a leap into juicing. A friend of mine looks great and has lost weight. I know it will be tough but I can wait to get started! Wish us (me & hubby) luck! :)

  • Great Article! I just went through a juice fast myself. One of the things I think is important is preparing your body prior to the juice fast. Do things like eliminate caffeine and extra sugars. This will help your body not go into shock when you start your fast and make it easier to stick to the fast. I also suggest starting your day with a green juice when possible. It is what gave me the most energy throughout the whole day!

  • Juicing says:

    Wow, I never knew there could be so much to juicing. Thank you for breaking it down and for spending your time making juicing more efficient and productive.

    God bless!

  • Mary says:

    My husband and I are preparing for our first juice cleanse. We are so excited to loose some weight, feel great and have more energy! Wish us luck!

    • Jane says:

      Great job! Remember to not stop after the first few days. Remember to be tough and fight it out. It will be great for you in the long run!

  • I lost 70 pounds through juicing and exercise.

    Juicing when done right is definitely not a fad and you can keep the weight off.

    Last week I finished a 10 day juice cleanse and feel amazing!

  • Kim Biddle says:

    I do a green juice each morning and afternoon, it has changed my life, this was a great article!

  • Stacy says:

    I just got a juicer for a wedding present and can not wait to try it out! I love juicing and now I can do it in the convenience of my own home :) It is so much healthier and tastes so much better. I am a runner so the energy that you get from the juices are amazing. Skin even looks amazing! I would love to branch out more with recipes :)

  • Luke says:

    I’ve been doing these recently, I got inspired after Dr. Oz’s presentation on youtube (he was on some show). It’s interesting because within 10 minutes of drinking these I can feel a boost of energy, sometimes it’s a surge of energy. These are nature’s power formula.

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