Since I moved to Los Angeles, I’ve heard more and more of people doing juice cleanses to “re-set” their diet and taste buds to get back on track with a healthy whole food diet. (Full disclosure: I’ve tried this myself.)
The practice of re-setting makes some sense, since the more crap you eat the more you tend to want to eat (sugar is addictive). But there are also skeptics who classify juice cleanses as more of a fad than a medical miracle.
So, let’s explore the art of juicing–and whether it’s effective as a cleanse, a regular supplement to healthy eating, or perhaps neither.
What’s the point of juicing?
Juicing extracts most of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from the fiber that holds fruits and vegetables together.
Why remove the healthy fiber from a perfectly fine fruit or vegetable? Because it’s easier for the body to absorb nutrients from juice when it doesn’t have to work as hard to digest the fiber of the whole fruit/vegetable those nutrients are packaged in. So, juicing proponents say it fast-tracks nutrients into your system.
The purpose of a juice cleanse (consuming nothing but juice for several days) is to give your digestive system a rest, load your body with easy-to-digest nutrients, and break out of craving cycles associated with high-sugar and high-carb diets.
Benefits of juicing
Juicing can be convenient for people who don’t eat enough veggies (most Americans) and is an easy way to add a wide variety of vegetables you wouldn’t normally eat to your diet. It’s also, reportedly, the most efficient way to get and absorb the essential micronutrients your body needs (see above re: removing fiber).
Particularly for people with compromised digestive systems (a result of illness or poor food choices over many years), juicing helps to “pre-digest” vegetables for you so your body can get the most nutrients out of them.
Because of better nutrient absorption, some common benefits of juicing include:
- improved immunity
- improved skin condition
- improved digestion
- more energy
It’s important to note that these benefits are referring to the regular consumption of juices made *primarily of green vegetables*. The benefits of short-term juice cleanses are harder to measure.
Juice is not a complete meal–your body also needs protein and healthy fats for optimum functioning. And, moreover, fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) require dietary fat in the digestive tract in order to be properly absorbed.
Because of this, most experts say that juicing is better as a regular part of a healthy diet (for example, as a snack between meals) than as an exclusive intermittent juice cleanse.
Other possible drawbacks to mention: Store-bought cold-pressed juice is hella expensive. Juicing at home requires specific, not-cheap equipment and is typically more time-consuming than making a smoothie or eating raw veggies. And, most Americans don’t eat enough fiber as it is, so it’s maybe not a great idea to forgo all of the fiber you lose in juicing.
So, is juicing good for you?
Sure, but it may not be entirely necessary.
The main determinant is fiber: it’s good for you, but hard to break down. People with healthy digestive systems should have no problem digesting whole fruits and vegetables (or smoothies). But, if you suffer from digestive issues, removing fiber can lighten the load on your digestive system and help you absorb more nutrients.
What about “re-setting” with a juice cleanse?
For most situations (like holiday excess), it seems you’re better off with a daily green juice and a complete whole food diet rather than a full-blown cleanse.
There are many different types of home juicers on the market, from fast-spinning centrifugal juicers to slow-moving masticating juicers. The slower the juice is extracted, the more nutrients are preserved. (The fast-spinning blades of centrifugal juicers create heat that breaks down some of the enzymes in the juice.)
Masticating (“cold-pressed”) juicers are great products and preserve more nutrients, but centrifugal juicers are fine too (especially if you’re consuming the juice right away), and they’re less expensive and easier to find commercially.
Also consider the clean-up required for different models. A cheaper juicer isn’t a better deal if you never use it because it’s too time-consuming to clean.
- Focus on leafy greens–they should make up about 70-80% of your juice.
- Add green herbs, too! Think cilantro, parsley, basil, mint, etc. They’re great at detoxifying and add a nice punch of flavor.
- When adding fruits, add those that are lowest in sugar and highest in nutrients, like apples and grapefruit.
- If you want to add volume to your juice, use vegetables that have high water content, like celery and cucumber.
- Other nice add-ins: lemon, lime, ginger.
- Choose organic as much as possible. The point of juicing is to super-charge your body with nutrients, not pesticide residues. Spinach and other greens have some of the highest pesticide residues of fresh vegetables. Here’s a handy list of EWG’s Dirty Dozen–foods you should definitely buy organic.
- Make only as much juice as you can drink immediately. Fresh juice is highly perishable and can grow harmful bacteria.
- You can store fresh juice in the fridge for up to 8ish hours in a glass jar with an airtight lid. Fill the jar to the top, leaving only a minimal amount of air in the jar–the oxygen in air oxidizes the juice, breaking it down and decreasing its nutritional value.
- The best time to drink juice (for optimum nutrient absorption) is on an empty stomach.
- As always, pay attention to your body and how you react to different types of juice. It shouldn’t taste disgusting or hurt your stomach–if it does, it’s a sign you’ve juiced something your body isn’t able to handle in that dose. Reduce the amount of that vegetable you include in a serving, or cut it out to see if you feel better.
- Don’t throw away your pulp! Turn that valuable fiber into something else, like muffins, veggie broth, or an awesome cream cheese spread.
Starter Green Juice Recipes
The fun thing about juicing is you don’t need a recipe–you can create unlimited combinations based on what’s seasonal, or in your fridge, and tweak your input based on personal preference. But, to get started, here are a few recipes: