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Dear Mark: What’s Wrong with Juicing?


In your last “Dear Mark” post you said “…why drink your veggies and fruits in concentrated form when you can eat them? I’d just be careful of overdoing the juices.” What is wrong with juicing? I’ve always thought that making fresh juice is extremely healthy for you. Am I right to think that juicing is part of healthy lifestyle or have I been bamboozled by an unnamed, charismatic infomercial personality with bushy eyebrows?

Charismatic personality aside (know what you mean, by the way), I don’t consider juicing a bad thing. However, “eating” only a fraction of a fruit’s/vegetable’s edible content in this case just isn’t going to be as healthy as eating all of it.

Nutrients: Although a generally nutritious option, juice is ultimately a higher sugar, lower nutrient version of its produce sources. Calorie for calorie, for example, you’ll take in more sugar drinking apple juice than you would eating the apple itself. To boot, juicing inevitably reduces or eliminates the majority of fruit and vegetable skin. The skin, for many of our favorite produce pals, berries, apples, pears, plums, figs, etc., contains a hefty amount of a fruit/veggie’s total nutrients. Remember the produce color wheel? Those much-hailed pigments, seats of flavonoids and carotenoids, are concentrated in the skin (and, in some cases, the pulp) as well. Another case of your mother/grandmother being right (again): eat the skin.

Fiber: Again, when you juice you’re deliberately leaving out the skins and pulp (or most of them anyway). Just as the skins and pulp usually hold a lot of the nutrient load, they are the primary (if not sole) source of a fruit’s or vegetable’s fiber content. While I’ve said before that our medical culture overplays the fiber issue [1] (convincing us to down large quantities of grain-based fiber products to “clean us out”), I nonetheless believe that we do require some plant-based fiber for intestinal health. Another crucial benefit of fiber in this case? It slows down the digestion and absorption of the juice’s sugars.

The take-home message is this: juice can offer a decent source of nutrients on days when it’s hard to work in your usual amount of fruits and veggies, but it’s just not an adequate substitute for the real/whole source. (Note: It also requires that you recalibrate your overall carb load that day.)

If you want to include juice in your diet, go for fresh without a doubt. (I wouldn’t suggest buying bottled juices. They’re heated for safety and shelf stability, which reduces their nutrient content and gives them that stale, “off” taste. To boot, the labels may also reveal added sweeteners.) There are plenty of good juicers on the market, and some of us even have access to good juice bars where we live. Personally, I’d recommend making your own. Juice bars generally make their juices fresh for you but might not be as picky in choosing their produce as you would be. Of course, on top of it all you’ll pay a lot more than if you made it yourself. When you juice at home, don’t make a large batch. Juice breaks down pretty quickly. To maximize nutrition (and taste), be sure to make it fresh daily.

As always, thanks for the great questions and comments, everybody. Keep ‘em coming!

Further Reading:

Fun with Fiber: The Real Scoop

On the Problems of Cultivated Fruit [2]

Best Fruit Choices [3]

The Definitive Guide to Primal Eating [4]

What is the Primal Blueprint? [5]