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Health Hack #33 - JUICING: Is it as Beneficial as Many Think?

The Craze

While it appears that the juicing craze has cooled down a bit over the last few years, it still remains an integral part of the overall health and wellness scene. Particularly now that we’re entering summer, the idea of real vegetable/fruit derived juice resonates for many as a breakfast substitute or a delectable, nutritious snack. For some, it could even become a full on meal replacement at lunch or dinner. Whole Foods is lined with beautifully branded, freshly made juice bottles, often highlighting local purveyors, who use locally sourced ingredients. The juices are almost always green in color and shrouded in buzzwords like cleansing and detoxifying. The prices often require a lot of green and are quite cleansing and detoxifying to one’s wallet, but prevailing wisdom suggests that it’s worth the splurge.

There are, there have always been, and there will presumably always be a huge continuum of misnomers regarding proper nutrition. Data is always evolving, and what was held to be true only a few months ago may have already been flipped on its head. Remember not too long ago when bread was perfectly acceptable by almost all dietary camps provided that it was “whole wheat”? The gluten-free movement has since had much to say about that. Suddenly our morning cereal brands that built their empires on gluten-containing grains are racing to throw those ingredients by the wayside. This is not to demonize whole grains, which happen to be a far superior choice than more heavily processed ones. It is simply to highlight that what was once heralded by all as a great path towards better health can very quickly fall out of date.

The nutritional information vortex is so dynamic that it’s very noteworthy when all sides can arrive at a consensus on any subject. It’s extremely remarkable to get everyone to agree. And everyone can agree that excess sugar is bad. It’s the known culprit of the Western diet that has helped shepherd a whole slew of metabolic diseases, namely Type 2 diabetes. It comes in a variety of forms, some more hideous than others, but none of them should be consumed beyond moderation, nor without other food constituents (like fiber or fat, for example) to help blunt any insulin spike. We spent much time delving into this subject in prior articles (Not All Sugars Are Created Equal, Either).

Juicing Techniques

The process of juicing isolates the pure carbohydrate from fruits and produce. This carbohydrate happens to be composed almost entirely of sugar. Once whole foods are reduced down to their liquefied state the fiber goes out the window. Fiber, as readers will recall, is a vital nutritional component of real food consumption (Soluble Fiber: A Vital Component Of A Balanced Diet), and was nature’s clever design for both aiding and abetting in digestion and for keeping our ever-important microbiome in proper balance. More on this subject in a bit...

First, it’s important to differentiate between juicing methodologies, because there is a hierarchy. The more common technique – which happens to be the inferior method – is Centrifugal Juice Extraction. If your juice isn’t labeled as “Cold-Pressed” then it’s probably been processed via a Centrifugal Extractor. In layman’s terms, a metal blade spins at rapid speed against a mesh filter, separating the juice from the pulp. The fiber-containing pulp is discarded. The spinning blade produces heat that wreaks havoc on many of the good components that remain. The heat destroys some of the beneficial enzymes and many of the remaining nutrients are susceptible to oxidation (to oxidize = to turn rancid), potentially ruining some of the nutritional integrity of whatever is left of the food that was juiced.

The other juicing technique involves a Masticating Juicer machine and is better known as Cold Press Juicing. The technique consists of two steps. Step 1 is to shred/crush the food into a pulp, often via a rotating disc. Step 2 is to hydraulically press the pulp between two plates, using pressure to extract the liquid, while again discarding a majority of the fiber. The primary advantage here is the absence of heat. The cold pressed technique provides a longer shelf life and preserves more of the nutrients and enzymes than does the Centrifugal method. It also delivers a slightly pulpier product by retaining a small percentage of fiber. So while this article blankets the entire juicing spectrum as suspect, it’s worth pointing out that if juicing is your thing – and all power to you – try your best to source (or make) cold-pressed products.

Standalone Sugars < Sugars Accompanied By Fiber

Most identify fiber simply as the food constituent that assists in our bowel movements. Fiber is the portion of food that is not digestible. It comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Virtually all foods that can be juiced contain both types in some quantity or another.

Soluble fiber can dissolve in water whereas insoluble fiber cannot. Soluble fiber passes through to the colon where it often ferments and provides a food source for the healthy bacteria that resides in our gut. Familiar with probiotics? Soluble fiber is prebiotic. It feeds the probiotics, or “good bacteria”, and keeps them in a favorable balance. The gut microbiome has soared to the forefront of nutrition-based research over the past few years and has shown countless signs of being paramount to overall good health. Soluble fiber plays an integral role in maintaining this complex system.

Insoluble fiber refers to the roughage that most of us think of when we think of fiber. It collects water on its way down and aids our digestion while helping to enable consistency of our bowel movements. It is vital for digestive health.

In addition to having the clear benefits to digestion and gut health, both forms of fiber also assist in regulating blood sugar levels when accompanied by sugars. The presence of fiber literally changes the digestive matrix. Your blood sugar will spike more significantly while ingesting more isolated sugars than when that same sugar quantity is accompanied by its fiber-laden counterparts. In other words, the presence of fiber alongside sugar will help blunt your insulin spike…there is no denying that this is a good thing.

Some Key Takeaways

This is not a blanket dismissal of juicing. Before drawing any conclusions it’s important to put the debate into perspective. Is it a bad thing to consume the liquid equivalent of 2 pounds of nutrient dense greens in one quick sitting? Not necessarily, especially if you’re bound to go through your day with limited vegetable intake.

Are some juice concoctions better options than others? Absolutely. If the juice consists mostly of leafy greens and/or cruciferous vegetables then sugar content should be more moderate. Some of the more tart fruit work here also, like lemons and limes. Just don’t expect your drink to taste as good absent some sweet fruits and veggies (like strawberries and beets, for example), and expect to pay hefty premiums since you’ll require way more plant matter to fill your cup without the help of more water-dense fruits and starch.

Are there better ways of taking in your greens? 100%. The best thing that you can do is eat whole foods, fiber and all.

But what if I don’t have access to whole vegetables when I’d typically be filling my juice fix? Order or make a smoothie instead. You’ll save money and get more of the good stuff. The fiber stays in house, and the fiber is where it’s at. The only challenge is that you’re not wanting to consume a smoothie days after it’s been made, which is why they’re not as accessible as cold pressed juice while on the fly.

If you refuse to ditch your juicing habit for whatever reason, maybe consider accompanying your juice with whole foods that are robust in high quality monounsaturated fats – avocados, macadamia nuts, and free-range eggs (yolks included!) are some great options. These fats will act as a triple threat, helping to blunt the insulin spike while also providing some additional satiety and providing some missing nutrients.