By Samantha Shelton
To juice or not to juice? That is the real question. With the CDC recommending 2-4 servings of fruit and 3-5 servings of veggies each day, it seems like a good idea. But with Americans' average sugar consumption flying through the roof, how do you keep a healthy balance? Here, why it's still smart to chew your food, when to opt for drinking your greens -- and what the heck words like centrifugal, cold-pressed, and pascalization really mean.
Why You Don't Need a Juice Cleanse
Back in the '90s, juicing was one of those diet plans often left for the likes of celebrities and models who needed to slim down before walking the red carpet or runway. Then, handling a bottle of murky green liquid meant you were likely fasting, or not eating solid food for anywhere from three days to three weeks. Not anymore. "People have done cleanses because they usually think that their body needs it, and that's not really true," says Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, author of the healthy living blog fANNEtastic food. "Our body is made to cleanse out toxins and process foods all on its own. You don't need to go to an extreme measure."
Nowadays, using juice as a supplement to your diet is the more common -- and healthier -- way to go. "Every day is an opportunity to eat whole foods, which are nutrient-rich," says Elizabeth Ward, RD, nutrition consultant and Jamba Juice Healthy Living Council member. "If you focus mostly on that, you don't have to worry about hitting a reset button." It's also about developing long-term healthy eating habits, rather than reaching for a quick fix, adds Mauney. "Juicing should be a fun strategy that's just one part of your diet, not the whole thing."
The Pros to Drinking Your Veggies
Solid food will always be your go-to source of nutrition, but there are a few reasons why guzzling your greens is good in moderation. First, the convenience factor. "Do it if you're having trouble fitting in veggies or fruits throughout the day," says Mauney. "It's easier to have some juice over taking the time to prep and eat an enormous salad." Not to mention you can't exactly take that salad with you on the run, whereas you can lug a juice anywhere you please. Plus, it may help you get down the greens you aren't exactly fond of: a recent survey from Jamba Juice revealed that more than 1 in 5 Americans say they would prefer to drink beets and dark leafy greens in juice over eating them whole.
Another bonus? Fruits and veggies have a lot of fiber, which takes time for the body to digest. Juicing strips that down by removing some of the skin and pulp, allowing your body to quickly absorb the nutrients you need, says Mauney. Another bonus to squeezing in those extra nutrients? Brighter skin and more energy.
Related: How to Juice at Home
The Not-So-Nice Side of Juicing
It sounds like as long as you're not using juice as your only means of survival, there aren't really any downsides, right? Not so fast. While stripping the fiber from your fruits and veggies in a juice is good for faster digestion, it also has negative effects. Most of the fiber lives in the skin of the food, and removing that means you miss out on benefits like better bowel health, lower cholesterol levels, and increased satiety, notes Mauney. So while you're quickly absorbing the energy, you miss out on the complete package. "If you have juice one day, enjoy whole fruits or veggies the next," she recommends.
Another blow to the juicing halo: sugar. Many diehards opt to make their own concoction at home for more control over how much sugar goes in each drink. Mauney recommends one serving of fruit per juice to keep it below 20 grams -- and to eliminate any chance of added sugars getting into the mix. "If you look at the 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans and all of the other recommendations about sugar intake, it's about limiting added sugar," says Ward. "It's never to limit foods that happen to be sweet naturally, that's not the goal." While this makes those at-home juices ready for consumption, it slaps a red flag on bottled varieties, as many contain added sugar. But if that's more your style, follow the less than 20 grams per serving rule and make sure the nutrition label lists one serving size, says Mauney. If there are two, drink half and save the rest for later.
Decoding the Back of the Bottle
If you're a juicing newbie, here's your guide to all the fancy terminology you'll find in juice bars and on bottles.
Cold-pressed: The process in which juice is actually created. It involves grinding fruits and vegetables into a permeable pouch, squeezing it with a crazy amount of pressure so that every last drop of juice bleeds out, and leaving behind unwanted pulp.
Centrifugal: If you see this, step away. It's a faster way to create the juice, but these machines use heated-up rotary blades, which some believe essentially cooks -- thus, eliminating -- those hard-sought nutrients.
High Pressure Pascalization (HPP): This is the big difference between making fresh juice to be consumed immediately, and bottling juice. HPP is the process that allows the juice to last on shelves for a few days, or even weeks, whereas fresh juices (made ready-to-order at juice bars or at home) need to be consumed within 30 minutes to get the most nutrient bang for your buck. Research doesn't lean either way on whether HPP affects your juice. Don't fret if it's listed on the bottle.
Live Enzymes: Other than nutrients, this is what you're after in juice. Live enzymes are found in fruits and veggies, but die off once heat is applied to them. Juicing locks those live enzymes in. And because juicing uses a larger amount of fruits and veggies than you would chew in one sitting, you're getting a heftier dose. This helps aid digestion and absorption of food.
Related: 10 Green Smoothie Recipes
We Tried It: Juices to Love
When it's time to pick up a store-bought bottle, these are the ones we reach for.
Suja Elements: Green Charge: Despite being filled with tons of greens (kale, spinach, barley grass, alfalfa and more), the juice tasted fairly sweet, says editorial assistant Lauren Cardarelli. "It was the perfect pre-workout snack to fuel me through an early bird spin class."
Love Grace: Beauty Elixir: "This tastes just like my morning grapefruit without any of the hassle," says associate beauty editor Molly Ritterbeck. "Plus, phytonutrients and antioxidants keep my skin glowing and wrinkles at bay. Bonus!"
Evolution Fresh: Sweet Greens with Lemon: Available in any local Starbucks, this intro to juicing drink "tastes super fresh, and the touch of apple adds the perfect hit of sweetness to an otherwise veggie-heavy drink," says assistant web editor Samantha Shelton.
Blue Print: White When a strong dessert craving hits, beauty director Heather Muir reaches for this satisfying blend of cashew, vanilla, cinnamon and agave. "It's so yummy, and sweet enough to satisfy the craving without leaving me feeling like I overdid it."
For those who want to find a juice bar, we love the Green Hopping app ($0.99, itunes.com), available in New York City and soon in Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Austin, Chicago, D.C., and Boston. Using your phone's GPS function, it'll track the bars nearest you, and categorize them based on whether juice is served fresh or bottled, and whether that location caters to certain dietary restrictions (gluten-free, vegan). In a hurry? Use the payment system option to place your order before you even arrive, so you can simply grab and go.