Is juicing really good for you?

I get this question often! Many of my patients tell me that they struggle to get the amount of fruits and vegetables that they need every day; most say that juicing the produce helps them reach their recommended daily allowance for veggies and fruit. My patients often say, “I don’t like vegetables” and “fresh produce generally goes bad because we don’t eat it fast enough.” Juicing seems like a feasible way to reach recommended vitamin and mineral goals for the day. However, there’s no sound scientific evidence that extracted juices are healthier than the juice you get by eating the fruit or vegetable itself. And juicing is not appropriate for everyone. For example, if one of my patients has diabetes, kidney disease, or is on a special medication, she may need to limit her intake of certain nutrients (carbohydrates, potassium, phosphorus, etc.) As a dietitian, I review each juicing request on a case by case basis to determine safety and desired result before offering recommendations.

Juicing can be one way to increase your nutrient intake, and incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables that you may not normally eat, such as beets, spinach, and kale. If one of my patients asks me if they should begin juicing, I first suggest ways for them to obtain the recommended servings of whole fruits and vegetables a day. I urge them to plan a night where the entrée is all about vegetables and fruits! A great entrée salad could consist of spinach topped with sliced strawberries, asparagus tips, mushrooms and shredded carrots. Add sliced almonds, feta cheese, and quinoa and you have one balanced entrée salad. A favorite of my family is a veggie/pasta dish (we made it last night!) Sautee onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli and add it to whole wheat pasta. I added several beans for protein (lima beans and black beans) and our sauce was a lemon/balsamic vinaigrette. Delicious! I often recommend adding fruit for mid-afternoon snacks along with pre-cut peppers and hummus.

Many methods of juicing will extract most of the fruit or vegetable, but fiber is often removed in the process. If this is the case, you might consider blending instead of juicing. Blending the edible parts of fruits produces a drink that contains more healthy phytonutrients and fiber. Removing pulp gets rid of a lot of fiber, and without skin you miss out on such “micronutrients” as carotenoids and flavonoids that have the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and cancer. In addition, the fiber can be beneficial because it can help you feel full; feeling satisfied after consuming any food or beverage is an important step in controlling calorie intake. “Fluid calories do not hold strong satiety properties, don’t suppress hunger and don’t elicit compensatory dietary responses,” said Richard Mattes, M.P.H, R.D., a professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University. “When drinking fluid calories, people often end up eating more calories overall.” And sometimes people get a little overzealous when it comes to juicing produce. About 5 years ago I had a patient come into my office in a panic. He showed me his hands and they were orange! He went on to explain that he had read a magazine article which touted the benefits of vitamin A and beta carotene. He said that he didn’t like carrots but really liked juicing carrots and apples. After further inquiry I found that he drank five or more glasses of his homemade juice for a few days in a row. This lead him to have carotenodermia, results from an excessive intake of beta-carotene, a precursor for Vitamin A, which can turn skin and nails an unsightly orange hue. I reviewed with him that “too much of a good thing, is not a good thing.” He agreed.

The American Cancer Society recommends that we consume 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables a day. This means whole fruits and vegetables. I suggest that you try to eat your fruits and vegetables first. If you are unable, juicing may be utilized as a way to obtain important nutrients in your diet. But be sure to thoroughly wash your produce before you juice. And remember that you can certainly over-consume calories, vitamins/minerals with juicing, so only consume a glass or two a day. Moderation is the key!

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