Just in time for a New Year’s cleanse—what works, what doesn’t, and where to start.
By Venita Ray
I started to research the benefits of juicing after an ex suggested that I try it. I bought my first juicer, but I was skeptical about trying it for several reasons. First, I thought, why juice when I can just eat healthy? Second, I thought I had to use lots of fruit, and I have never really liked fruit juice. Third, it seemed like a lot of work for minimal benefit.
I learned that juicing is not a replacement for eating whole fruits and vegetables; it is intended to supplement a healthy, balanced diet. I found out that I could juice mostly vegetables, with just a small amount of fruit added for taste. Although I liked what I was learning, I was still reluctant to start juicing. The turning point came when I couldn’t eat solid foods because of a toothache, and I tried juicing out of desperation. Once I tried it, I was hooked. After juicing almost daily for over five years, I felt so good about doing more for my health that I decided it was worth the extra work.
There’s lots of information available on the benefits of juicing, how to juice, and choosing a juicer. I am not an expert on juicing, but I’ve learned through trial and error what works for me.
I prefer juicing veggies over fruits. I juice lots of vegetables, with a small amount of fruit added for sweetness. I discovered you can juice almost anything, but all foods are not created equal. Some contain vitamins that are more easily absorbed when chewed or cooked. Certain vegetables have specific health benefits: blood pressure-lowering beets, inflammation-fighting ginger root, potassium-rich cucumbers, and antibacterial lemons. I like green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, cilantro, parsley, spinach, and romaine lettuce. I also use celery, cucumber, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and ginger. I add fruits like apples or blueberries along with protein powder, flax seeds, chia seeds, and spirulina. It took time to find the right balance between nutrition and taste that was right for me. Juicing allows me to consume a wider variety of vegetables—and in larger amounts—than I would ever be able to eat.
Juicing requires time and commitment. The comment I often hear from people when they find out that I juice is that it takes too much time and requires a lot of work. I agree; it does require time for shopping, preparation, cleanup, and the right equipment. I shop once a week to keep the right food on hand. To save time, I usually prep the night before, which cuts the time I spend actually juicing and cleaning up down to 20 minutes. To get maximum nutritional benefit, it is best to drink the juice immediately after it is prepared. When I am rushed for time, I juice the night before or make enough for several days and put it in the freezer.
I prefer drinking juice to smoothies. There are pros and cons to both. Juicers separate the juice from the pulp (or insoluble fiber). When you juice, you are extracting up to 70 percent of the nutrition, and without the fiber your body absorbs almost 100 percent of the nutrients. Vegetable juice is low in fat and usually has less sugar and calories than a smoothie. One of the drawbacks of juicing is figuring out how to re-use the pulp to avoid wasting it. The pulp can be used as compost, or in salads, soups, and baking.
Blenders or similar devices pulverize food into a smoothie-like drink that contains the same fiber as whole fruits and vegetables. Fiber keeps your digestive tract healthy and slows down the absorption of sugar, but it also slows down the absorption of nutrients (some of which stay trapped in the fiber). Smoothies can be just as nutritious as juice, but they contain more calories and sugar. Smoothies can be easier to make, require less clean-up time, and—unlike juicing—nothing is wasted.
Venita Ray is the public affairs field specialist at Legacy Community Health.