With new juice bars popping up around the country, and many people stocking their kitchens with a home juicer, there's no doubt juicing is the latest health craze. Fresh-squeezed and freshly-bottled juices have become a popular way to get the health benefits of fruits and vegetables and are also favored by dieters looking to "cleanse" their way to weight loss. But do juicing’s health claims hold up?
The Health Claims
Proponents of juicing claim that juicing is a good way to get a bounty of fruits and vegetables and that it's easier to absorb nutrients from juice than whole foods. That’s only partly true. While you can, literally, squeeze out many of the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables by juicing them (and thereby get a lot of those nutrients), you also lose the fiber—a component of fruits and vegetables (and other whole plant foods) that adds to satiety and helps improve heart and digestive health.
The Pros & Cons
Since you have to use a far larger quantity of fruits and vegetables to make a glass of juice than you typically would eat in a sitting, you will get higher doses of micronutrients and phytochemicals, but you’ll also get more sugar and calories, without the fiber that helps to slow the absorption of that sugar. You can minimize the amount of sugar you get by drinking primarily vegetable juice—kale, cucumber and celery are low-sugar vegetables that are delicious options for juicing—or to stick to a 4-ounce serving of fruit juice (that’s the amount equivalent to a serving of whole fruit).
Can You Absorb More Nutrients From Juice?
As far as absorption goes, one study of fresh mangos and papayas versus juice found that people absorbed the carotenoids—one of the major nutrients in mangos and papayas—well from both juice and fresh fruit. Another study found little difference between the absorption of carotenoids from fresh carrots versus carrot juice.
Does It Help Cleanse Your Body?
In terms of cleansing, your body is already equipped to clean out toxins—that’s what your liver and kidneys are for—so the best way to support that is to drink plenty of water and fresh foods. And while it’s fine to go on a juice cleanse for a day, long-term juice cleanses lack nutrients your body needs (such as protein and fat), so they’re not a great idea.
Are Bottled and Fresh Juice the Same?
Then there’s the question of whether bottled, pasteurized juice is the same nutritionally as freshly-squeezed juice. Bottled juice has usually been heat treated to pasteurize it. This kills potentially harmfully bacteria, but also degrades some—but definitely not all—of the nutrients in juice. Additionally, as juice is stored, it can lose more of its nutrients. Still, studies have shown that even some processed juices (such as cloudy apple juice, Concord grape juice and orange juice) have high levels of health-promoting antioxidants. And tomato juice actually benefits from the high heat of bottling. Tomato juice has higher levels of lycopene than fresh tomatoes, since lycopene is actually more available to our bodies when processed.
You should get at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day on a 2,000-calorie diet. Juice can be one way to up your intake, but whole fruits and vegetables should still be a part of your daily diet.