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Most of us know the tremendous health benefits that come with eating fruits and vegetables. Still, only 50 per cent of Canadians are consuming the recommended seven or more servings a day. For many people, the barriers to eating fruits and vegetables still outweigh the benefits. They can be expensive, inconvenient to prepare or limited in availability. And some people just don’t like the taste.

One quick solution to chowing down on fruits and vegetables all day is juicing, since you can get a day’s worth of nutrients in just one glass. Often promoted as a miracle health solution, juicing has become very trendy in the past few years. People drink juice to detoxify, prevent disease and to help them lose weight. It sounds like the answer to good health and longevity. But before you indulge in this fountain of youth, it’s important to look at both sides of the coin.   

The benefits
Freshly squeezed juice contains a comparable number of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to what’s found in whole fruit. Antioxidants may help prevent disease, and vitamins and minerals play a role in vital functions in our bodies from cell growth to organ function. Juicing allows you to consume more fruits and vegetables in one glass than you could eat at a time, making it easy to meet your daily vitamin and mineral needs.  

Juicing can also add variety to your diet. If you dislike the taste and texture of certain fruits and vegetables, you can disguise them in a mixture of flavours, for example by juicing kale and cucumber with apples. And if you dislike all fruits and vegetables, juicing them (in moderation) can be a quick and less painful way to get some in your day.

Other bonuses to juicing are that it decreases the amount of food you waste since you can use bruised or overripe produce and still get a tasty juice. And juicing is convenient and easy, often requiring less skill, preparation and cooking time than whole vegetables and fruit.

The downsides
Scientific evidence shows that eating more fruits and vegetables keeps you healthy. According to the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, people who eat at least seven portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day had a 42 per cent lower risk of death from all causes, a 25 per cent lower risk of cancer and a 31 per cent lower risk of heart disease. That’s not to say you have to eat the full seven to 10 servings recommended by the Canada Food Guide every day to enjoy their health benefits, but every bit helps.

Unfortunately, the same hasn’t been seen for juice consumption. In fact, excessive juice intake may lead to an increase in body weight, blood sugars and cholesterol levels. And several studies suggest fruit juice may increase your risk of developing diabetes.

It’s unclear why whole fruits and vegetables provide health benefits that are not seen in juice but we do know whole fruits contain fibre, are more filling and provide less of a sugar load. Juicing, on the other hand, concentrates sugar and removes the fibre, essentially leaving you with an empty high-calorie beverage. Consider this: if you juice four oranges and a cup of pineapple your juice would contain approximately 332 calories and 16 tsp (64g) of sugar and no fibre—a similar amount of sugar to a store-bought 100-per-cent fruit juice.

Eat a whole orange instead; it provides only 62 calories, 3 tsp (15 mL)of sugar and 2.3 grams of fibre. Adding (non-starchy) vegetables will give you the same amount of juice, but fewer calories.

Juicing leaves out the fibrous components found in the pulp, seeds and the peel. Fibre plays an important role in digestion and regularity, and may help lower cholesterol and promote blood-sugar control. 

Unfortunately, there is nothing magical about juicing when it comes to weight loss either. Following an all-juice diet might help you lose weight in the short term, or it might not. Weight loss comes down to reducing calories regardless of whether they come in solid or liquid form. So if you don’t limit your juice intake, you could end up drinking more calories than you’d typically eat.

The journey to weight loss can be an extremely difficult and frustrating path. It’s no wonder many seek out quick weight-loss fixes. But the reality is long-term success typically requires consistent hard work you can live with.
A short-term liquid diet may be beneficial for some people by helping them limit choice while they address their eating habits. But it’s still important to include balance. Protein and fibre are important for weight loss. They help fill you up, and for that reason, a juice diet may backfire. Protein also helps you maintain muscle mass while you lose weight.

One important thing to think about before rushing out to buy a juicer is that compared to juice, healthy smoothies provide a better bang for your sip. All you need to make a smoothie is a common household blender or food processor. And you can use the whole fruit or vegetable, which gives you more fibre and produces less waste. It’s also easier to add protein to a smoothie with protein powder, yogurt or milk.

What about juicing to detox? Truth be told, there’s no scientific evidence to support the benefits of a detox or cleanse. Lucky for us, our liver and kidneys work as a detoxifying powerhouse.

The best way to cleanse and nourish your body is still through a balanced diet. Drink plenty of water, eat fibre-rich foods (including fruits and vegetables) and avoid smoking or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Treat your body well and it will return the favour. If you’d still like to try a juice detox, it’s wise to speak with a health care professional first and limit the detox to three days.

Many health experts recommend limiting juice consumption to no more than ½ cup (125 mL) of 100-per-cent fruit juice a day. There’s a place for juice in a healthy diet if it’s something you really enjoy, or if you can’t get enough fruits and veggies any other way. Just be conscious of how much and how often you drink juice, and the amount of calories you’re consuming in relation to your personal health goals.

Maureen Tilley is a registered dietitian and author of Hold the Salt! and Hold that Hidden Salt!

Recipes featured in this article:

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