Are you someone who constantly looks for ways to eat healthy while on the go?
For the fast-paced, busy and health-conscious person, juicing has always been one of these options. The juicing craze first originated in the 1990’s, and its presence has not declined since. It is an easy breakfast solution by either grabbing a bottle from the store or making your own at home. Many people like the ease of drinking their fruits and vegetables rather than having to chew on them.
However, the real question about juicing remains: is juicing just another health fad or does it actually provide health benefits?
Let’s take a look at its nutritional profile.
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Although juicing may give you a blend of essential fruits and vegetables, too much fruit in one bottle might actually cause more harm than good. We only need to consume about 2-3 servings of fruit a day (one serving is equal to one small apple or one large orange or a quarter cup of dried fruit). Many juice brands contain more fruit servings in a bottle than what is actually recommended. After all, it is easier to drink than eat three oranges in one sitting. And when you take a look at the sugar content of most juices, it can add up to more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per container, which is the maximum amount of sugar the American Heart Association recommends consuming in one day.
The way your body processes these juices also is an issue. Juicing extracts and breaks down fruits and vegetables into simple sugars, which get absorbed quickly by your digestive tract, causing sugar spikes. This can lead to sugar crashes later because of how quickly sugar leaves the bloodstream, causing fatigue and sluggishness.
When fruits and vegetables are processed for juices, most of the fiber-rich pulp is removed, leaving little to no fiber in the final product. Fiber is important in digestive health because it can help relieve constipation. It can help with weight maintenance or weight loss by making you feel full due to its ability to expand in the digestive tract. Your body does not absorb fiber, thus making it a calorie-free nutrient. And most importantly, it can help control blood sugar. Whole fruits and vegetables naturally contain fiber, so their sugar and fiber content are digested simultaneously controlling the amount of sugar entering the blood stream. Typically, men and women need to consume about 25 to 30g of fiber a day to receive any potential health benefits.
While juices contain antioxidants and phytochemicals — substances that can improve your immune system and maintain cell structure — the normal function of these substances could be altered due to the extraction process involved in juicing. While whole fruits and vegetables naturally contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, they also contain other nutrients that may synergistically react with these substances once digested by your body. So, although juices may have a high amount of antioxidants, the way they react in our body, without the fibers and nutrients from whole foods, may be ineffective.
So what should you look for in a juice?
Juices containing a low amount of sugar and some fiber are recommended. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 5 teaspoons (20g) of sugar for women or 9 teaspoons (36g) of sugar for men per day, so be mindful of your daily sugar consumption and choose a juice containing less than the recommended dose. When looking at the fiber content, anything containing less than 2g means the product is mostly sugar. For comparison, 1 small orange contains roughly 2g of fiber. If you really want a nutrient-dense juice, try smoothies instead. Smoothies are typically blended whole fruits and vegetables, meaning the skin, fibers and pulp are all blended together. Some smoothies also contain protein, which is important for muscle building/retention. If you have a blender and 5 minutes to spare, make your own nutrient-dense smoothie at home.
5-minute breakfast smoothie:
½ cup blueberries
1 cup milk (or milk substitute)
1 Tbsp slivered almonds
1-2 drops vanilla extract (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a blender, blend for 5 minutes and enjoy.
If you want other tips to living a healthier lifestyle, it is time to check in with your primary care physician to get a game plan.
If you’re in the Southern California area and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment to schedule an appointment.
By Jaynita Patel, MS, RDN, clinical dietician