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.
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.”
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)
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
- 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.
- 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.