This has been a huge thing in the last decade or so. Every time someone feels like they want to kick-start themselves into getting healthier or losing a couple pounds in time for beach season, one of the first things they talk about is going on a “juice cleanse”. Then there are those people who decide that they will get all their vegetable nutrients through juices, since it is so much easier (not to mention more palatable to some) than eating vegetables. The media talks about it a lot and Wholefoods sells a bunch of ready made versions, not to mention all the juice-bars you can stop by to pick up your $5-$10 cup of Detox Kale & Ginger Skin Glow tonic along with your acai bowl (or was it a Pitaya bowl these days?).
It’s a big thing, this juicing.
But is it really the answer to good health? Will it really kick-start your body into the “new-improved-you” you’ve been hoping for?
Here’s my take on it:
As a cleanse
If you are currently eating grains, processed dairy, industrial seed oils and other refined foods, then going on a juice cleanse for a few days will probably make you feel better in the short term (and may see you lose some weight) since you will be clearing your system of all of those sub-optimal foods. Unfortunately though, the results will be mostly water loss (as opposed to losing body fat) and will only be very temporary. You may also end up feeling worse since your body will be detoxing, but without the support of all the other nourishing nutrients your body requires to remain balanced. Juices do not contain all the nutrients essential to maintain good health (eg. adequate protein or fat), so this can leave you feeling weak and run down.
If you are looking to detox in a very balanced and healthy way, something like the Whole30 will be far more effective and have much more longterm benefits for the body.
Juicing to supplement your diet
Many people choose to juice as a way to incorporate additional vegetables into their diets. Some even rely on juices for the majority of their veggies.
When it comes to juicing, there are a couple issues:
1. Juicing removes the fiber, which is one of the main beneficial parts of eating vegetables and fruit. As the Whole 30 team says: “Juicing whole foods for health reasons makes as much sense as refining whole grains for health reasons.” In other words it makes zero sense – just eat the whole darn food!
Fiber is essential for aiding digestion and for keeping blood sugar stable. It slows the absorption of fructose into the blood stream.
2. Most juices contain a TON of sugar. Yes, even those that are sweetened only with pure organic fruit juice. And if those “veggie-juices” don’t contain fruit juice, I guarantee you will not be guzzling them down with such enthusiasm. Go right now and try juicing some kale and broccoli (with nothing else) and let me know how much you enjoy the taste.
So yes, any “kale-juice” or “veggie-juice” you buy will likely be mostly fruit.
Fruit juice is basically all the sugar (remember that sugar = sugar regardless of how “natural” it is) with none of the fiber. You may as well just eat a candy bar for the amount of sugar most “healthy” juices contain. There is nothing wrong with eating whole fruit in moderate quantities – you are then getting the full benefit of everything that makes up the fruit – fiber and all. It is also very hard to eat more than a couple pieces of fruit without getting full, but you can easily drink 4-5 apples or oranges in the blink of an eye in a small bottle of juice. That is a LOT of sugar.
The other issue with juicing many vegetables, is that there are many nutrients that are far less bioavailable when eaten raw in certain veggies than when lightly cooked. There are also compounds which can have a negative effect on the body’s ability to absorb other minerals and can lead to inflammation and issues such as kidney stones (read more here). Since most juices are made using raw vegetables, this means we are less able to absorb many of the nutrients and may get digestive distress as a result.
What about smoothies?
These are far better than juices because they generally contain the whole fruit/vegetable but they tend to usually still be loaded to the rafters with sugar. It is far easier to drink 3 handfuls of fruit than to sit down and eat the same quantity, so you’ll typically be eating WAY more fruit than is advisable. And, as we said above, sugar = sugar = sugar, even if it is from a healthy source.
If you are going to have a smoothie (and I do pretty often for convenience), I would recommend making it a nutrient-dense, low-sugar version. What I mean by that is this: allocate amounts of ingredients you would typically sit down and eat off a plate, pick low sugar fruit (and only a handful) and add whole food sources of protein and fat to balance out the nutrients.
My typical smoothie contains homemade full fat raw yogurt (you could sub in full fat coconut milk), a handful of berries (these are low in sugar), a dash of fresh squeezed lemon juice, a pinch of sea salt, 2 tablespoons of frozen liver (yes, liver), 2 pasture-raised egg yolks, some turmeric and cinnamon. It does not taste like a dessert like most smoothies do, but it is packed FULL of nutrients and holds me till lunch time without spiking my blood sugar. It is also a GENIUS way of getting liver into me without having to eat a cooked slab of the stuff. And my theory is this – if you can learn to like alcohol (and don’t tell me that is not an acquired taste) then you can learn to love healthy foods.
So, the long and short of it is this:
Juicing is not an adequate replacement of real food. It may contain some nutrients (although many are stripped out in the juicing process), but it will most probably be very high in sugar and FAR lower in nutrients than eating the whole foods themselves. This is why many people get bloated and have tummy ache when they drink the stuff.
You cannot, and I will repeat this, CAN NOT replace eating vegetables or whole fruit with a juice version. Vegetables are a necessary source of nutrients, specifically polyphenols, vitamins and antioxidants, so we need them in our diets. Not liking them is not a good enough excuse for not eating them. Even if you’re 2 years old. We all do things we don’t like every day because life requires us to. In the same way, our health requires us to eat adequate amounts of vegetables. So here’s where I say grow up and learn to like them! In the nicest possible way of course 🙂