Here’s Why Juicing May Be Doing You More Harm Than Good

Plus 6 ways to make it work better.

September 18, 2016
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Whenever a client tells me they juice, whether it’s an all-out “cleanse” or a simple addition to their daily routine, I’m quick to point out that I have concerns. But the truth is that juicing isn’t all bad—or all good. 

So here are both sides of the debate.

First off, some basic facts. Overall, Americans aren’t consuming enough fruits or vegetables. A paltry 10% of Americans get the recommended servings of fruit per day, and that percentage unsurprisingly drops to below 9% for veggies. If these beverages help someone venture into the wide world of nutrition, then shouldn’t, as a dietitian, I be celebrating?

Not only do juices bring more fruits and vegetables into people’s lives, but certain vitamins (vitamin C and all of the Bs) are actually more bioavailable (our bodies use them more easily) in juices than in whole fruits and vegetables. I always teach my clients to consume foods in a variety of ways (cooked, raw, whole, pureed, you name it), because different nutrients are best preserved and gleaned from different preparation methods. Juices could add a new dimension to that piece of advice.

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So what’s my hang up?

My biggest gripe is that juicing removes a fruit or vegetable’s fiber, and I am all about that fiber. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that helps us stay fuller longer and with more moderate portions, aids in blood sugar regulation, gives our digestive system a good workout, and keeps our cholesterol levels in check. In short, fiber is pretty awesome and pretty important. And guess what? Americans aren’t eating enough of that, either.

Without fiber, juice is just a hefty dose of simple sugars that doesn’t fill you up and can cause your blood sugars, whether you’re diabetic or not, to spike up and later crash. 

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Plus, juices “pre-digest” food for us. Digestion begins in the mouth as we chew our food and continues in the stomach, which manually and chemically breaks food into smaller pieces. Juices don’t require either of those processes, so the calories in them are ripe for the taking, right off the bat. I even found this article that praises juice for doing “the body’s digestive work for it.” That’s not a good thing—we want our bodies to work for our food!

Lastly, juices are naturally low in fat and protein. So, by relying on them too heavily, you’ll wind up with an unsustainable, imbalanced, and nutritionally inadequate diet.

Juicing is by no means essential for wellness, but it can be incorporated into an overall nutrient-dense way of eating. If you’re into juicing, follow these guidelines to make the most out of it and feel like a million bucks.

Go Heavy Veggie

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Go as heavy on the veggies and light on the fruits as you can, ideally sticking to one piece of fruit if possible. Fruits add more simple carbohydrates and calories to the drink. And without fiber, fat, or protein, those calories aren’t going to be very satisfying or ideal.

Add Spices

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Add in nutritious spices and herbs, like parsley, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger. They’re no miracle pills, but they add a number of phytonutrient and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Think Small

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Stick with small, four- to eight-ounce servings, and think of them as the carbohydrate for the meal or snack.

Balance It Out

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Round out the juice with protein, fat, and fiber. Here are some ideas:

  • A handful of almonds or other nuts or seeds.
  • One or two hard-boiled eggs.
  • Greek yogurt (opt for plain, and flavor with a splash of your juice and some chia seeds).
  • A big, green salad with grilled chicken or tempeh on top.
  • A blend of the juice with Greek yogurt, almond butter, or silken tofu, a mixture which can then be used as a base instead of milk for granola, oats, breakfast quinoa, or chia pudding.

Time It Right

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If you’re going to have juice on its own (without extra protein, fat, or fiber), use it as a pre-workout fuel-up. It will give you the quick-acting carbs your body needs for the physical activity, and will empty out of your stomach quickly so you don’t cramp up. Beets and cherries can be particularly beneficial for this purpose.

Save The Pulp

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Remember, that pulp is rich in fiber! So save it up and add it into batters, soups, smoothies, and more.

I will never recommend juices as an everyday staple, nor will I endorse any program that talks about “cleanses” or “detoxes,” but there is a way to juice healthfully. Think of it not as the only way to get veggies into your diet, but one way—a single tool in an entire tool box for wellness!

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