Enjoying our fruits and veggies in drink form can be an easy and tasty way to make sure we’re not skimping on nutrition, but there are a few things we should watch for.
We all know how important fruits and vegetables are for our health, yet only 1 in 10 of us are eating the amount we need every day.
Fruit and veggie juices and smoothies have taken the health world by storm as delicious and convenient options to help fill in the nutritional gaps.
Even a picky kid can embrace dark green vegetables when blended into a sweet smoothie treat.
What is juicing?
Juicing simply means separating the liquid part of the fruit or vegetable from the pulp, or fiber, resulting in a thin liquid beverage that is hyped as a concentrated source of antioxidants.
Juicing can be done two ways: by using a high-speed centrifugal juicer or a low-speed, or cold press, juicer.
A high speed juicer uses a quickly rotating metal blade and mesh filter to extract the liquid from the produce and channel the pulp into another container. A cold-press juicer uses slowly-turning gears to crush the produce before pressing the juice out.
High-speed juicers are more efficient, affordable, and widely available, while cold-pressed juicers are more versatile in what they can juice, retain more fiber, and yield more juice.
Juicing: the pros and cons
Drinking fresh juice is beneficial for people who have digestive conditions or who otherwise need to stick to a low-fiber diet, because removing the fiber allows for easy digestion of nutrients which are able to reach your system much quicker.
Still, because juice is missing its fiber, it delivers an immediate dose of sugar directly into the bloodstream, potentially causing unstable blood sugar and mood swings.
Plus, fiber is filling, and drinking juice without all that fiber means we may find ourselves hungry quicker, prompting us to fill up on more calories throughout the day.
How is a smoothie different?
Smoothies are also beverages that can be made of fruits and vegetables, but are thicker than juices because they consist of blended whole fruits and vegetables, retaining the fiber and keeping you full for longer.
Smoothies contain vitamins and minerals but can also be a great way to increase your intake of protein and healthy fats by adding nuts, chia and flax seeds, and yogurt to the mix.
In this way, a quick smoothie can even replace a meal when you are in a time crunch.
So, what should we be looking out for when it comes to smoothies?
For starters, smoothies, especially those with lots of fruit, can be pretty high in acid which can erode your tooth enamel over time.
Also, some smoothie recipes amp up the sugar by calling for added sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.
High-speed vs. cold-pressed vs. blended: how do they stack up?
Due to their fast blade-rotating action, high-speed juicers have raised major concerns for their potential to generate heat and degrade nutritional enzymes in the process. Cold-pressed juices are marketed as healthier juicing alternatives that are able to retain more nutrients.
But the latest evidence shows that this may not necessarily be the case.
While a 2021 study showed that cold-pressed vegetable juice may retain more vitamin C than its high-speed equivalent, but overall antioxidant concentration actually depends on the type of vegetable being juiced and how it is juiced.
For example, juiced kale retains more antioxidants when juiced at a low speed, whereas beet juice antioxidants are preserved better when juiced at a high speed.
Interestingly, blended smoothies were found to retain the lowest amount of vitamin C and antioxidants among all three methods, most likely due to the heat generated by its processing.
How safe is a juice cleanse?
A juice cleanse involves consuming only fruit and vegetable juices for a specified number of days.
Enthusiasts claim that doing so can flood the body with nutrients while cleansing it of toxins.
Juice cleanses carry some risks though. Many green leafy vegetables like spinach, swiss chard, and collard greens are high in oxalates, a naturally occurring compound found in plants.
While healthy in moderation, getting too many oxalates can be harmful to your kidneys, and drinking only low-calorie juice for days can leave us feeling dissatisfied and even at risk for nutrient deficiency.
The truth is, our kidneys and liver are already well equipped to rid the body of toxins, so a juice cleanse is not necessary for that purpose.
Ask the expert: who should steer clear of juices and smoothies?
Margarete Collins is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Loma Linda University Diabetes Treatment Center.
She says, “Individuals with pre-diabetes and diabetes, or those at risk for those conditions, should give preference to consuming fruit in their solid state versus liquid, as this is the form where the dietary fiber is more intact. This slows down the digestion process, and therefore the glucose will be slowly released into the bloodstream. This way, the fruit will have a positive impact on the overall blood sugar, and research shows that it can even reduce the risk of diabetes complications. However, even for this population, an occasional juice or smoothie can be managed, preferably with some vegetable combined with the fruit, and if possible even adding extra fiber from seeds like chia seeds or flaxseeds.”
The bottom line: should we be drinking our vitamins?
There is no question that regularly consuming fresh fruits and vegetables is the ticket to good health.
Drinking juices and smoothies can be an easy and delicious way to boost your daily intake of valuable nutrients.
But smoothies may contain large amounts of added or natural sugars, and the sugar found in juices is delivered quicker into your bloodstream.
If you are trying to lose weight, keep your blood sugar levels in check, maintain your overall health, or all of the above, limiting the sugars that go into your smoothies and juices by emphasizing more vegetable and other fiber-rich ingredients, and eating most of your fruits and vegetables whole when fulfilling your daily requirements, are your better bets.