When it comes to nutrition, it’s not so much what you eat that matters most but, rather, what you absorb. I write a lot about the beneficial compounds found in fruits and vegetables. But I recently became concerned that I wasn’t truly tapping into that potential, that I was missing out on some of the disease-fighting effects.
I love my roasted Brussels sprouts and won’t be giving them up any time soon and broccoli sauteed with garlic will always be one of my staple sides. But cooking veggies – even at a somewhat low temperature – inevitably destroys some key micronutrients by altering their shape and chemical composition. This is where I find common ground with vegans. It’s one of the reasons I pay more for sprouted nuts and seeds. This process disables enzyme inhibitors, which “activates” beneficial enzymes and improve digestibility. My concern over nutrient degradation also led to my recent purchase of an Instant Pot. According to a 1995 study, pressuring cooking – in comparison to roasting, boiling, and steaming – did the best job at preserving nutrients, with a 90-95% retention rate. Since pressure cooking doesn’t require a much higher temperature and shortens the cooking time, there is less time for nutrient loss.
Raw fruits and veggies contain substances that are either not found in cooked foods or that are present in much lower and less beneficial amounts in cooked foods. Glutathione is the best example. It’s the body’s master antioxidant, helping to protect against oxidative damage and regulate immune system function. Glutathione is not really present in cooked vegetables or cooked meats. It’s in raw fruits and vegetables and raw meats, so juicing can give you glutathione without the high price and absorption issues associated with supplemental delivery.
There are enzymes in raw fruits and vegetables that are destroyed in the cooking process, so that’s another potential pro. But while (very) large salads have been a part of my daily routine for many years, you really need to chew well to release the antioxidants and, like so many other people these days, I often have to race through a meal.
Smoothies are an alternative “delivery” method for fruits and vegetables and the vitamins and minerals they contain. They’re satisfying and convenient and I do look forward to them, especially post-workout, but there’s a downside: the heat generated by the blender and the oxygen introduced during the process can lead to substantial nutrient loss. Dr. Brian Clement of the Hippocrates Health Institute did an experiment in which he found that blending destroys approximately 90% of the nutrients in the fruits and vegetables. According to him, the loss of nutrients is due to oxidation that is happening during blending. As oxygen is being sucked into the blender during a blend cycle, nutrients in the food are being destroyed, and as a result your blended smoothie would only contain about 10% of the nutrients in the fruit and greens that you put in the blender. So if your fruit and veggie intake comes exclusively from salads and smoothies, or if you mostly cook your veggies, you’re leaving substantial benefits on the table, literally!
Why did I shell out over $300 for a juicer? Simple: Nutrition. More nutrition. Better nutrition. I’m always looking for new and different ways to upgrade or hack my healthy living regimen. I thought long and hard about this one. Juicing fanaticism annoys me in the same way as any other cult-like, jump-on-the-bandwagon health trend. But I went about this purchasing decision in much different fashion than the average quick-fix, 30-day-cleanse-and-then-go-back-to-eating-like-shit-and-let-my-new-toy-collect-dust-in-the-basement-crowd. And if you’re considering buying a juicer, I strongly encourage you to think about how, when, and why you’ll be using it before deciding if it’s worth it. In my view, juicing is for the serious, seasoned health enthusiast looking to take their disease-prevention efforts to the next level. Smoothies, on the other hand, are more of a transitional strategy, helping the newly-motivated wean off of the standard American diet (SAD).
It’s amazing to me that a“juice versus shake” debate has emerged and that the subject has become controversial at all. You can – and should – include both if possible. There are pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages and you should decide based on goals, budget, lifestyle, and taste preferences. Since very few Americans actually get the recommended six to eight servings of fruits and vegetables per day, ANYTHING that helps us reach that target is advisable.
A lot of people whom I trust and respect have written articles discouraging the practice of juicing and advising that we all stick to shakes and smoothies but many of them also happen to sell protein powders so I’m not sure how credible they are. Their reasoning implies that somehow we have to choose one or the other. Those who think juicing isn’t worth it present reasons that just don’t apply to me or really to anyone who’s serious about using food as medicine.
For example, you’ll often hear the “anti-juice” crowd talk about the lack of fiber in juice. But they’re forgetting something: The juicing process does remove insoluble fiber, the kind that makes you feel full and regular. But soluble fiber remains in juice even when you take out the pulp. Soluble fiber absorbs water in the intestines, forming a gel that helps slow the transit of food through your digestive tract. It also acts as prebiotic to support healthy bacteria in the gut. This is the type of fiber that’s been shown to help lower risk of heart disease.
Since I don’t plan on giving up salads, I’m in no danger of becoming deficient in insoluble fiber. I also consume substantial amounts of nuts and seeds throughout the week so the “no fiber” argument of the anti-juice crowd went straight out the window for me. In fact, less fiber – at least the bulking variety – is actually one of the reasons I prefer juices to shakes. The fiber in a smoothie means that the nutrients aren’t absorbed as quickly or as fully. In contrast, when I drink juice, I feel a burst of energy within minutes. It’s like a “nutrient express.” Without all the fiber, your digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to break down the food and absorb the nutrients. This makes the nutrients more readily available to the body in much larger quantities than if you were to eat the fruits and vegetables whole. That is especially helpful if you have a sensitive digestive system or illness that inhibits your body from processing fiber.
When I was relying on smoothies, I’d have to cram so many handfuls of leafy greens into the blender to get an adequate amount of nutrients that the shake would take too long to drink and the large amount of liquid required left me with a heavy, bloated, full feeling in my stomach. Since juices are so concentrated, a small portion can provide the nutrient equivalent of several serving of fruits and veggies, which can make it much easier to take in all the key vitamins and minerals your body needs. But if you’re really concerned about losing fiber, there’s a way around it. You can add it to sauces, soups, stews, and chilis. I’ve seen recipes for meatballs and burgers made from leftover pulp, as well as muffins and pancakes. Some people use a dehydrator to make chips or crackers out of it. You can also compost your pulp and add it to your garden
Another argument you’ll hear against juicing is one that I happen to agree with. If your juice contains all or mostly fruit, you’re creating rather than solving health problems. This is the wrong way to go about juicing. Natural or not, the sugar levels in fruit are high, even more so when it’s in the form of a juice. When juices are made with fruit or high sugar vegetables like beets and carrots, you may experience a blood sugar spike, especially if you don’t consume any fat at the same time. And when juices contain more fruits than veggies, they can pack a lot of carbohydrates —as much as 40 grams in a 16-ounce serving. Fruit juices greatly stress the liver and pancreas, contribute to diabetes and many other blood sugar disorders, and have been linked to pancreatic cancer. There are those who believe that Steve Jobs’ fruit juice habit contributed to his development of a particular form of pancreatic cancer known as islet cell carcinoma, which originates in the insulin-secreting beta cells.
Then there’s the cost issue. Yes, a good quality juicer will set you back at least $300 to $400. Do your research. Go with an Omega or Tribest. You get a 10 to 15 year warranty. The machine should last a long, long time. As for the ingredients themselves, since your body will absorb and utilize far, far more nutrients in juice form than you could ever get from a smoothie or salad, you’re getting much more bang for your buck with the juicer. Limit yourself to a shot glass of juice per day and you’ll probably even save money.
The justification is the same as with all other facets of informed eating: you’re either going to pay for your health now or later. Look at your juicing habit as a way to keep you out of doctor’s offices, hospitals, and pharmacies. I believe you pay for your health one way or another. You can choose to invest your time and money now in high quality foods, exercise and, other self-care rituals. Or, you can pay later in sick days, medications and procedures. That being said, be sure to shop around. I was able to find a floor model of the juicer I wanted and in doing so saved a couple of hundred dollars.
For awhile I was relying on store-bought juice on the days when I didn’t feel like making (or chewing) a salad. Stupid. You’re always, always, always better off making something yourself. I wasn’t just paying for the juice, I was paying for the bottle, the label, the advertising, the distribution. Worse, though, was the fact that I couldn’t customize my juice. I chose the ones with the least sugar (no fruit – just veggies) but the first several ingredients listed were all lackluster in the nutrition department, things like cucumber. There could’ve been a mere sprinkling of the nutrient superstars like kale or spinach, but there’s no way to know for sure because the manufacturers don’t provide a breakdown. Including more of these pricier veggies would cut into profits for the companies that make the juices – the same reason that olive oil is usually listed far, far down a list of ingredients on the label of your average run-of-the-mill supermarket mayo.
In the end, I settled on three primary reasons for incorporating vegetable juicing into my optimal health routine:
- Juicing allows me to absorb all the nutrients from the vegetables. Most Americans – myself included – have impaired digestion from years of poor food choices. This limits the body’s ability to absorb all the nutrients from vegetables. A juicer, particularly the masticating type, will “pre-digest” them for you, so you get most of the nutrition, rather than having it go down the toilet. You’ll be giving your body a concentrated burst of micronutrients… it’s like a supplement in a glass. Juicing your veggies makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients. As soon as the juice hits your mouth, your body can begin using those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to stave off disease.
- Juicing allows me to get the optimal amount of vegetables. We’re supposed to eat about a pound of raw vegetables per 50 pounds of body weight per day. Eating that many vegetables is nearly impossible for most people but it can be easily accomplished with a quick glass of vegetable juice. The micronutrients available in one glass of vegetable juice typically come from a volume of vegetables you would not be able to sit down and eat all at once because you’d get full or bored. Additionally, not only are there concentrated micronutrients available to you, but they’re available in a way that’s extremely easy for your body to assimilate.
- I can add a wider variety of vegetables to my diet. Most people put the same vegetables in their salad each time they make or buy one. If you don’t rotate your food choices on a regular basis you increase your chance of developing a sensitivity to a certain food. With juicing, you can include a wide variety of vegetables that you may not normally enjoy eating whole. I’ve always known things like dandelion greens and wheatgrass were good for me but was either too lazy or too unadventurous to incorporate them. Similarly, despite knowing of the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of ginger, I usually just don’t feel like peeling a knob of the stuff. With the juicer, I don’t have to. I just throw it all down the chute and the machine takes care of the rest. As a matter of fact, the entire process of preparing, drinking, and storing the juice plus cleaning all the various parts of the machine takes me less time than making and eating my salad.
I went with the Omega NC900 and couldn’t be happier with my decision. It met all of my criteria and I highly recommend it. Here are some tips to help you find the right juicer for your situation:
- Dial in the basics first. Cut out processed foods and limit your sugar consumption. Identify and address food intolerances and sensitivities. Focus on the quality of the food you’re putting in your body. Don’t rely on juicing as a way to undo or reverse the damage inflicted from a junk-laden diet.
- You get what you pay for. Most expensive juicers are designed for those who really want to get the most health benefits from fresh fruits and vegetables. A good machine will last a long time. Read reviews to learn about ease of use, cleanup time and effort, how heavy the machine is, and whether it will fit on your counter.
- There are several different types of juicers on the market. Pick one based on what you intend to juice most of the time. I knew I’d be juicing mostly leafy greens, as they are loaded with disease-fighting compounds, so I chose a masticating juicer. The high pressure squeezing force of the gears breaks open tough cell walls and releases more enzymes, vitamins and trace minerals in a way my teeth never could. In contrast to centrifugal juicers, masticating machines can crush and grind even the most stringy, sinewy produce. This was important to me, as I planned on including various sprouts and herbs in my juice. Masticating juicers also break up more of the phytochemicals from the produce, resulting in a deep-colored juice which is also richer in its nutrients and minerals and tastes better. You can still juice many varieties of fruit if you wanted to throw some in (a small Granny Smith apple would be a better option than a mango!) and the machine can handle with the tough root vegetables, such as carrots and turnips.
- Choose a “slow” juicer. These turn at even slower speeds (RPMs), which means less foam and less destruction of nutrients from heat. The low speeds also decrease aeration and oxidation. As a result, the juice remains stable, allowing you to store it in the refrigerator without nutrient loss for up to 36 hours according to most experts – something that’s not possible with smoothies.
- If you’re going through the trouble of juicing fruits and vegetables, you want to get the maximum yield possible. The more juice you extract, the more you will get for your money.Twin gear juicers are considered the most efficient type of juicer available and can extract higher yields of juice from fruits, vegetables, wheatgrass, pine needles, spinach, and other greens and herbs. The pulp that comes out of twin gear juicers is the driest of all the types of juicers.
- Have a storage container ready and fill to the top with juice diluted with filtered water. Mason jars work well. Seal tightly and transfer to the fridge right away if you’re not ready to drink it.
Bottom line: if you need an on-the-go meal or snack that provides nutrients to keep you feeling full, smoothies are an excellent choice. Anything that gets us to eat more fruits and vegetables is a good thing. But why does society keep coming back to juicing as a health craze? Freshly squeezed vegetable juices form part of most healing and detoxification programs because they are so nutrient rich and nourish and restore the body at a cellular level. There’s no faster, more efficient, more effective way to alkalize, cleanse, and introduce a mountain of plant nutrition into your system.