If you’ve been around for a while like I have, you probably remember people in the early 1990s talking about a new health craze called juicing. The whole notion behind the practice seemed quite simple: Throw some fresh fruits or raw vegetables into a blender or a machine called an extractor, hit the on switch, and sit back for a minute or so, then drink your way to unrivaled health and freedom from all (or nearly all) of humankind’s chronic ailments. If you’re like me, you might also have done what I did: watch all of this information sail right by, then go back to everyday life without giving juicing any more of my/your inevitably limited mental resources.
But maybe you’re thinking, all these years later, what about that whole juicing thing? Were “they” really on to something? Did it really do what it claimed to do? Did the people who followed a juicing regimen really get all of those wonderful health benefits, or was it all just a bunch of uninformed hype…just another failed health trend speeding by like a bullet train? Well, as it often does, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Welcome to Juicing 101, a basic rundown on juicing’s basic principles, potential health benefits, and possible drawbacks.
Juicing is based on the principle of extracting and concentrating the nutrients naturally contained in fresh fruits and raw veggies. These nutrients—which all of us rely on for daily health and well-being—include vitamin C, vitamin E, the whole range of B vitamins and minerals such as iron and calcium. Certain vegetables also contain important nutrients such as iodine and fluoride, which are commonly known as trace elements. Scientists sometimes refer to the nutrients in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods as phytochemicals. In addition to these nourishing substances, fruits and vegetables frequently contain significant amounts of dietary fiber, which we need for efficient digestion and elimination of food waste products.
Most people who devote a lot of time to juicing use a device called a juice extractor, which breaks down the cell structure of fruits and veggies, then separates the juice from the skin, seeds and the fleshy material commonly known as pulp. While basic extractors typically require you to cut up your juicing material beforehand, more advanced models can break down whole fruits—skins, seeds, and all. Instead of an extractor, some people juice citrus fruits with a simple citrus juicer. If you want to juice a wider range of foods without the expense of an extractor, you can use a household blender to break down most fruits and veggies.
Potential Health Benefits
Decades of scientific research have verified the importance of including significant amounts of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. In addition to giving you the nutrients you need for everyday body function, these foods can:
- Lower your risks for experiencing a heart attack or stroke
- Help you maintain a healthy blood pressure
- Help protect you from age-related eye disease
- Help protect you from the onset of cancer in areas of your body such as your lungs, mouth and stomach
In addition, the fiber content of fruits and vegetables can:
- Help you achieve bowel regularity
- Prevent or ease constipation and other forms of bowel distress or irritation
- Help prevent the onset of two related bowel ailments called diverticulosis and diverticulitis, which may also prevent colon and stomach cancers
Because of the nutritional importance of fruits and veggies, experts in the private and public sectors recommend that you get at least nine servings of these foods every day if you have a more-or-less average intake of 2,000 daily calories. However, if you exclude potatoes—which don’t have the same nutritional benefits and are technically classified as starches—most American adults only consume one-third this amount of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
Juicing can potentially help you make up for any shortfalls in your fruit and veggie consumption by allowing you to concentrate these foods and drink multiple servings in a single glass of juice. This might be especially helpful if you don’t normally like fruits or vegetables and need a relatively pleasant way to work them into your diet.
Advocates of a juicing lifestyle, or a diet based largely around juicing, also report a variety of additional health benefits, including:
- Helping you absorb the nutrients in fruits and veggies more easily by reducing your intake of fiber
- Helping you purge toxic substances from your body tissues
- Promoting weight loss
- Improving the quality of your food digestion
- Strengthening your overall immune function
- Providing improved cancer prevention benefits
Without a doubt, juicing can play a healthy, functional role in your nutritional well-being. Again, this makes sense, given that juicing essentially increases your intake of foods that are already known to produce a wide array of important health benefits. However, juicing does come with certain potential drawbacks. For instance, both the Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society point out a lack of any scientific evidence that says that juicing gives you superior health benefits when compared to the consumption of whole, fresh vegetables and fruits. In fact, juicing can reduce the benefits of these foods in a couple of important ways.
First, by removing the fiber content of fruits and veggies, juicing cuts out or reduces two of the three main sources of fiber in the average diet (whole grains being the remaining option). While excessive fiber can indeed interfere with your body’s ability to take in certain nutrients, this substance still plays a vital role in your overall health and lowers your risks for certain serious health problems. What’s more, most Americans get too little fiber in their daily diets, not too much. In addition, the heat and grinding produced by juicing can potentially reduce the amount of nutrients that you would normally get from a serving size of vegetables or fruits.
If you juice a lot of fruits, which typically contain relatively high amounts of calories when compared to vegetables, you can also significantly increase your caloric intake and ultimately gain unwanted weight. Concentrated fruit juices can be especially dangerous for people with diabetes, who must continually monitor their blood sugar levels. In addition, diabetics can develop the same risks if they juice significant amounts of high-sugar vegetables such as beets or carrots.
If you use juicing as a primary component of a weight loss plan, you can easily:
- Fail to take in enough dietary fiber to adequately curb your hunger
- Develop health problems related to lack of sufficient protein intake
- Actually promote weight gain when you return to a fuller diet
As for the other health claims associated with juicing? Your body will remove toxins on its own just fine as long as your kidneys and liver are functioning optimally. And, as we have seen, claims related to such things as digestion, lowered cancer risks, and proper immune function are associated with consuming whole fruits and veggies just as much as—or more than—they’re related to the consumption of fruit and vegetable juices.
What’s It All Mean?
Juicing is generally safe if it’s part of a well-balanced diet that also contains whole grains, as well as whole fruits and vegetables. Viewed from this perspective, a juicing routine can help you increase your intake of important nutrients that may now be underrepresented in your current food choices (especially if you tend to favor meat over fruits and veggies). Depending on your interest and income level, you can get into juicing by using your current household blender or a more specialized juicing machine.
As an alternative to making juice at home, you can also buy commercial fruit juices, vegetable juices, or fruit/vegetable blends. I am not so inclined to recommend this option because many commercial fruits contain unnecessary sodium, excess sugar, and decreased vitamins in comparison to anything you can make. However, they are certainly far more convenient.
If you juice at home, you can improve the benefits of your efforts by:
- Taking the pulp removed by your extractor and reincorporating some of it back into your juice before you drink it
- Drinking only fresh juice and discarding what you don’t use to avoid potential bacterial contamination
- Searching recipe books or the internet for juice blends that appeal to you and/or provide high nutrient levels, such as carrot-apple blends, pineapple-blueberry-ginger blends, and spinach-cucumber-celery blends
If you have any juicing recipes of your own, I am sure your fellow readers (and I) would love to hear them. Happy juicing!
©2012 Off the Grid News