It’s hard to avoid hearing references to the juicing craze. Stores and juice bars advertise their latest creations; a friend talks about how juicing cleared her skin or helped her lose weight; Dr. Oz promotes juice cleanses, then warns of risks. But what exactly do people mean when they say they’ve started juicing? And is it a good idea?
Dallas-based nutritionist Lauren Talbot says a juice is simply water, natural sugars and enzymes from fruits and vegetables, with the fiber removed through the use of a juicer — not a blender, which keeps fiber intact.
People who use a blender are creating smoothies, juicing proponents say. The distinction matters, because they say you’re getting a higher concentration of nutrients in juice.
“Could you imagine eating six pounds of vegetables in the morning?” Talbot asks. It would be nearly impossible, but removing the fiber allows you to consume those six pounds in the form of juice.
Still, some think the benefits of juicing have been oversold. We talked to several experts about how to incorporate it into a healthy diet.
Supporters of juicing say it adds a wider variety and more servings of vegetables to your diet in a concentrated amount, while reducing food cravings because the added nutrients replenish the body’s deficiencies. They say it leads to clearer skin, better sleep and a stronger immune system.
“I’m so much happier,” says Talbot. “I feel lighter throughout the day and more energized. … It’s not just juicing; it’s my diet as well that has made a huge impact.”
Mitch Bernstein, a certified wellness coach, says the No. 1 benefit to juicing is the increased energy that comes as a result of giving the digestive system a rest.
“Most of our energy is going toward digestion, primarily because we’re eating foods that are wrong to start or went wrong in preparation — being cooked or prepared with added salt, oil, sugars,” he says. “The body has to break it down and then expel all that, so it makes digestion and elimination that much more difficult.”
He says juicing allows nutrients to go straight into the bloodstream, without the body having to expend energy to break down food.
“You feel lighter, more energetic,” he says. “If you do it longer, the eyes have more of a sparkle and the skin tightens, as soon as you lighten the load on digestion issues. … It’s almost an anti-aging aspect.”
Other nutritionists say juicing should not be seen as a cure-all. For starters, they say, juicing fruits and vegetables eliminates fiber.
“We know that higher fiber intake decreases your risk of diabetes and leads to better heart health and weight management,” says registered dietitian Meridan Zerner. “A higher-fiber diet also decreases the amount of weight that could increase around your waist. … We don’t want to discount the importance of the fiber in our enthusiasm to throw down the juice. If you’re comparing apples and oranges and it’s the fruit with the fiber or the fruit from the juice, of course it’s the fruit with the fiber.”
She also says juices are full of calories but don’t stave off hunger the way solid food does.
“Basically what you’re looking at is a high-calorie, low-fat, low-protein burst of sugar,” she says. “And is that a problem for those with diabetes and prediabetes? Yes.”
Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, says juicing takes away the process of chewing, which can mean reduced feelings of satiety, or feeling full.
“[Juicing] has pros and cons,” she says. “By taking off the pulp and outside skin, you’re missing out on nutrients that you’d normally get. And if it adds more calories, that’s not beneficial if weight loss is an issue.”
But Zerner says that because most Americans do not get even one serving of fruits and vegetables a day, let alone the five she recommends as the minimum, she supports juicing — as long as people are aware of the pitfalls.
How to Do It
Although Sandon says she’s turned off by juices that don’t look or taste good, Talbot says she has recipes that are tasty as well as nutritious.
“Some people think of juicing as this strange, medicinal thing. They think of wheatgrass, which is really potent. Some people have a gag reflex to it; I certainly do. That’s what people think of when they think of a green juice, but it doesn’t have to be that scary.”
Talbot suggests a high-volume vegetable, such as celery, cucumbers or romaine lettuce. She also adds dark greens, such as kale and spinach, and herbs, such as a handful of cilantro or parsley or a small piece of ginger root. Talbot says lemon cuts the green taste.
“I think it’s easy to get carried away with fruit, but lemon is really great if you’re trying to make a juice more palatable,” she says. “It doesn’t increase the sugar content, but it helps mask the flavor of a green juice.”
What About Cleanses?
In a cleanse, juices are used to replace entire meals. Sandon and Zerner advise against that.
“You cannot rely on juice alone,” Sandon says. “And if you’re relying on it for an extended period of time, you are putting yourself at risk for some nutrient deficiencies.”
Zerner also said many of the weight loss and detoxifying claims behind juice cleanses are false and misleading.
“Somewhere in there is that little asterisk that says, ‘Be wary of what seem to be extraordinary health claims, because they probably are,’” she says. “The kidneys and the liver, unless they’re sick, are doing the most amazing job detoxing with even just water.”
Talbot also says weight loss is not a reason to do a cleanse. She sees it as a starting point for people looking to change their lifestyles, or a reset button if you feel like you’ve been indulgent.
When clients want to do a juice cleanse, Talbot and Bernstein advise them on what to eat before and after. Bernstein suggests they have two juices a day and eat raw salads, without added oil or salt, for about a week before the cleanse.
“I would never recommend that someone on the standard American diet come in and do a five-day cleanse. That’d be very uncomfortable,” Bernstein says, adding that it could cause headaches and nausea.
Having a crazy night out before a cleanse would be a shock to the system, Talbot says.
“You don’t want to go into it on your own without knowing what to expect or without working with a nutritionist who’s trained on it,” Talbot says. “I recommend really understanding what could happen.”
Registered dietitian Meridan Zerner says that anyone considering juicing should watch for total calories and balance that burst of carbohydrates and sugar with healthy fat or protein.