Ask the Nutrition Nerd: Should I be juicing?

by Denis Faye | June 26, 2014

Juicer-Bloody-MarysHowdy, Nerd Herd. I’m fresh from a week in Key West. I had a blast and the mahi mahi I caught on the outer reef was the best fish I’ve ever tasted, but you guys really need to work on the produce. Most tropical places I visit tend to have fresh local fruit raining from the sky—literally, if you stand under the wrong palm tree, as I learned concussively in Hawaii. In Key West, key lime pie and the occasional coconut were about as good as it got.

And speaking of fruity goodness, today’s question comes to us from Sarah “The Tini Yogini” Stevenson.

I’ve seen articles rolling around about juicing and how it’s not good for you. Could you explain the benefits of juicing and how often a healthy amount of juicing would be?

First things first, Tini. Remember the Golden Rule of Juicing:

Juice can’t replace whole fruits and veggies.

While it’s true that juicing concentrates nutrients, it also concentrates calories and eliminates fiber. When you add veggies to your juicing mix, it mitigates this problem somewhat, given vegetables contain less sugars. But again, one of the main reasons to eat veggies is their fiber, which you don’t get from juice.

There are times when this can be a good thing and times when this can be a bad thing. If you’re focused on weight loss, I generally wouldn’t recommend juicing. When you diet, you eat at a calorie deficit, so every calorie needs to count. As I mentioned earlier (you’re taking notes, right?), when you juice, you strip produce of its fiber—and not only do you need that fiber for health purposes, but it promotes satiety.

If you plan to use juicing as a meal replacement, I’m decidedly anti. Without the protein, fat, and fiber of a well-balanced meal or meal replacement, your body’ll absorb that juice like a Hoover in crack, especially considering your blood sugar and glycogen will be low thanks to your calorie deficit. In other words, it won’t satisfy you.

Juice fasting

The only time I’d recommend juicing for weight loss would be a juice fast. And even then, some conditions apply. Because you’re eating consuming a super low amount of calories, it’s important to do it under the guidance of someone who knows what they’re doing. If you’re going to do it for more than a few days, you probably should check in with your doctor as well.

The primary benefit of a juice fast is empowerment. I’ve guided a few of them and while the first 3-4 days can be rough, once the body adapts to a consistent low calorie/high nutrient combo, things go alright as long as there’s fat to burn. The pounds burn off and the person feels like he or she is really taking control of the situation.

However, exercise can be tough during a juice fast due to the body will be running low on glycogen, a back-up blood sugar supply stored in your liver and your muscles. Also, juice fasts don’t teach you how to eat to maintain weight loss, so people often gain all that weight back once they resume a regular diet.

If I had my druthers, I’d prefer people lose weight with a balanced diet and exercise, but in extreme situations, when someone needs some serious empowerment, juicing is a good option.
This feeling of empowerment also makes short term juice fasts useful, whether you need to lose weight or just clean up your act. If you’ve gone through a period of crappy eating, be it due to holidays, vacation, or a bunch of restaurant Groupons you need to use before they expire, 2-3 days on the juice can be a good way to reclaim your diet.

Your daily juice

Juicing can also be beneficial is if your active lifestyle requires a buttload of calories. Eating 3000+ calories a day of healthy foods is hard work, so juicing can help make that volume seem a little more realistic.

This is especially true after a serious workout. On average, the liver contains approximately 400 calories worth of glycogen and muscles contain about 1,500 calories worth, all of which you can burn up  after 90 to 120 minutes of vigorous activity. That’s a lot to recharge!

Even if you don’t have a huge calorie load to work through, there’s nothing wrong with a daily glass of juice. Just keep it in check. People often make the mistake of drinking juice in addition to their chewing foods, . That extra 100-200 calories a day will add up. An expert review in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends sticking to 8 ounces a day, at most. They’re talking about straight fruit juice, but it’s still a good number to shoot for.

What type of juicer should you buy?

There are two kinds of juicers. Centrifugal juicers are more common—and cheaper. They extract the juice with a combination of spinning blades and a mesh filter. The process generates heat, which can kill some of the nutrients in your juice.

Cold press, or masticating, juicers squish the produce, generating less heat and therefore retaining more nutrients. They’re also considerably more expensive. They’re also good for juicing leafy greens and nuts. (Who knew?)

Buy a juicer like you’d buy a guitar or a bicycle. Do your research and don’t be afraid to invest in quality. That said, there’s no need to break the bank. If you can only afford a centrifugal juicer, that’s cool. Once you get into the quality range, the benefits you get for the extra cost are minimal.

Personally, I don’t own a juicer. I’m a big fan of fiber, so I prefer to make smoothies in the blender. In fact, if you get yourself a Vitamix, you can basically liquify anything you put in it, fiber intact, so I suppose that’s the best of both worlds. That said, I think you’re better off giving your jaw a little workout by chewing the stuff yourself.

Then you could spend the money you save on a ticket to Key West. Just make sure to pack your own fruit.

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