There are multiple advertisements claiming that fruit juice is healthy, particularly from the companies that are selling their product. As a naturopathic physician, I often provide clarity for patients when it comes to deciding what lifestyle practice is hype and what is healthy. One of the main guiding principles I follow is docere, or doctor as teacher. In this article I will guide you through the conversation I have with patients so that you can tailor the information to your own unique health needs. I will discuss how to identify health giving versus health degrading juice, why I might recommend the whole food over the juiced form of fruit and vegetables and how to decide what is right for you.
To begin, one of the main concepts that I teach is to eat a well rounded and balanced diet rich in organic whole foods (whole food is in the form nature intended) such as fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, wild-caught cold-water fish and lean meat such as chicken and turkey. Whole fruit and vegetables are a healthy part of our human diet. The grey area presents itself when we convert the whole food form to juice and the additives that are typically used to preserve and to enhance flavor for increased consumption and decrease production costs.
How to identify healthy juice?
There are so many products out there that purchasing can be overwhelming. Let me suggest a couple of tips to make your conscious shopping experience a breeze rather than a blunder. First, freshly juiced fruit and vegetables have more antioxidants and nutrient power than juice that is bottled on the shelf. The longer fruit or vegetable juice sits the more nutrients and antioxidants are depleted. Also, during the bottling process heat may be used to prevent bacterial and fungal growth, which further degrades the nutrient content. If you have the option, choose freshly juiced fruit and vegetables over bottled for increased antioxidant and nutrient value.
You can purchase your own juicer or go to your local health food store near you that provides fresh juice. Juicing can be part of a healthy lifestyle. I would recommend juicing organic produce and more vegetables than fruit, particularly the leafy green vegetables like kale, collards, spinach and Swiss chard. Fruit typically contains more sugar than vegetables (carrots and beets excluded). By juicing more vegetables than fruit you will cut down on the sugar content while getting a power packed cup of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. I recommend organic produce to juice with because you will increase your consumption of pesticides, waxes and dyes if you juice with conventional produce.
My second suggestion would be to read the label if you are purchasing bottled juice. What you are looking for is minimal ingredients. For example, if you are purchasing orange juice you will want to see just oranges in the ingredient list rather than additives such as high-fructose corn syrup, sugar cane, pear juice, white grape juice, artificial food dies (i.e. red #40 and blue #1), and artificial sweeteners (i.e. sucralose and aspartame) . Additives and preservatives add toxic burden and are best avoided.
Reasons to Eat the Whole Food Form:
I have multiple patients who come to me wanting to lose weight. One of the main suggestions I make is to switch from juice or soda to fresh filtered water and herbal tea. One example I use to explain the benefits of eating the whole food versus the juice form is as follows: when you eat an orange you receive fiber from the pulp and skin of the orange which help to reduce hunger, there are cancer fighting nutrients from the white flesh of the peel, and you typically stop after eating one orange.
Additionally, while you are chewing, you mix an enzyme in your saliva called salivary amylase with the sugars from the orange to improve the digestion of the natural sugar in the orange. When drinking juice, you typically consume the calories of two or three oranges in one sitting, the salivary amylase does not bind to the sugars as readily due to the large volume of sugar consumed in a few gulps, and fiber content is greatly reduced if not completely eliminated. Since there is more fiber in the whole food form, you will typically consume fewer calories because you begin to feel full. Juice on the other hand has minimal amounts of fiber and usually contains higher calories as more fruit and vegetables are needed to make a cup of juice.
I especially recommend that children not consume large amounts of juice as it discourages them from drinking water as their main source of fluids. Also, increased sugar consumption can affect their mood such as hyperactivity or irritability due to a spike in blood sugar. Freshly juiced vegetable juice with some fruit in combination with a well balanced whole foods diet is the exception to the rule.
Should I drink juice?
Every person has unique health needs. In order to answer whether you should drink juice or not, I need to explain the glycemic index (GI) so you can make the right choice for you. The glycemic index is a numerical system of measuring how fast carbohydrates trigger a rise in circulating blood sugar (i.e. the higher the number, the higher the blood sugar response). The glycemic index is measured on a scale of 0 to 100. If a particular food has a GI of 0 than it will not have an affect on your blood sugar. However, if the GI is 100, such as pure cane sugar, than your blood sugar will spike rapidly. When blood sugar rises, a hormone called insulin is released from your pancreas. Insulin carries sugar from your blood into the tissues where it can be stored or used for energy. Insulin helps to bring blood sugar back down to normal. When foods have a high GI, blood sugar rises rapidly, causing a surge in insulin.
Why should you care? The hyper-secretion of insulin can cause a rapid drop in blood sugar (reactive hypoglycemia), which often will leave you feeling dizzy, shaky, tired, lightheaded and hungry for more sugar shortly after you have eaten. In addition to increased hunger/cravings after eating a high GI food, the hyper-secretion of insulin causes increased fat storage and decreased muscle mass, which further decreases your metabolic rate.
I usually recommend that patients with diabetes, heart disease, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or metabolic disorders such as PCOS choose low to moderate GI foods. Also, if you are obese or trying to lose weight, choosing low to moderate GI foods will help you stay energized while curbing your appetite. Fruit juice usually has a GI of moderate to high. Vegetable juices can be a great source of nutrients while having a low glycemic index (though healthy, carrot and beet juice have a higher GI than most vegetables).
Bringing It All Together:
You are now equipped with the information necessary to make the right choice for you in regards to juice consumption. You have learned that freshly squeezed juice has more nutrient value than bottled and how to identify pure fruit juice versus juice that is highly processed. In addition, you can weigh the benefits of eating the whole food with the juice form of produce. Lastly, I have explained the glycemic index so that you can understand how the consumption of carbohydrates such as fruit and vegetable juice affects your blood sugar and insulin levels. Thus, allowing you to choose carbohydrates that will help you to prevent or moderate diabetes, heart disease, metabolic disorders and obesity while having balanced energy levels throughout the day.
Here is one of my favorite juice recipes I use to cleanse the liver and improve energy. Beets, carrots, lemon, kale, and parsley are nutritive to the liver and help with detoxification while the ginger helps to reduce inflammation and improves circulation. Enjoy!
Liver Cleanse Juice
Using a juicer combine the following:
1 medium red beet, cut into quarters
2 medium carrots
1 tablespoon fresh peeled and grated ginger
1/4 cup Italian parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Wash all produce with fruit and vegetable wash found at your local grocer. Organic produce is preferable to conventional. Nutrients are best preserved if consumed immediately after juicing as nutrient value degrades over time and with air, heat and light exposure.