We are ingenious at finding new ways to complicate our lives and torture ourselves. One of those ways is adopting fad diets in the quest for health. Juicing is a big fad today. I find that hard to comprehend. I recently endured two interminable months on a liquid/pureed diet while my fractured jaw healed. It was miserable. If I were a prisoner being interrogated, the promise of solid food might have tempted me to tell all. It was hard to maintain a nutritious diet and find foods that could survive being blenderized and still tempt the appetite. The only “health benefit” was the loss of a few pounds that I really didn’t need to lose; it brought me down to a BMI of 18.8, close to the “underweight” range of 18.5 or less. Since that experience, I cherish the pleasures of being able to chew. We have teeth for a reason. The idea of systematically taking delicious solid fruits and vegetables and reducing them to liquid strikes me as a truly revolting idea. I don’t object to the occasional fruit juice, but celery without the crunch? No thank you.
Health Claims for Juicing: Detoxification
People juice for various reasons. One is “detoxification,” a buzzword that is a red flag for pseudoscience. My liver and kidneys do an excellent job of removing toxins from my body, thank you very much. They don’t need any help, except in the case of acute poisoning with lead or other heavy metals. And juices are useless in acute poisoning. Several companies will sell you juices for detoxification. Some examples:
Juice Served Here tells us “everyday life contributes to the congestion and buildup of harmful toxins in the body from processed foods, pollutants and stress.” They offer a Soft Cleanse, a Semi Cleanse, and a Hard Cleanse: 25% off; originally $55 a day! When a customer asked Juice Served Here to specify the toxins he’d be flushing from his system, the company answered with this lame copout: “Unfortunately, due to regulations by the FDA we are unable to specify exact health claims for our products.” Naturally.
Paleta offers a PURIFY Cleanse that will “cleanse the toxins right out of your system so you can experience a more joyful and healthful life.” Benefits? Lose weight, kick the caffeine habit, reduce or stop smoking, detoxify your liver, boost your metabolism, refresh your mind and body, curb sugar cravings, increase energy and stamina, improve skin, hair and nails, sharpen cognition and focus, reduce sensitivity to allergens, and improve moods. The full 10-day program costs $645. Gee, if it really could do all that, it might be worth that much.
Moon Juice offers “plant-sourced alchemy to nourish and elevate body, beauty and consciousness… Juice cleansing enables the body to naturally go into detox mode while flooding it with live nutrients and enzymes… Some signs that it is time to cleanse are: a weakened immune system, troubled skin, allergies, low moods or anger, sleeplessness, poor digestion, weight gain, low energy, feeling and looking blah.” (I can relate to feeling blah, but I’m not sure I understand “troubled” skin.) They offer Rainbow, Indigo, and Green cleanses that they claim will “flood your system over the course of the day with over 20 pounds of certified organic, raw produce and nuts or seeds. The only thing missing is the fiber.”
Pure Pressed offers Green Cleanse, Detox Cleanse, and Energizer Cleanse.
That’s enough examples. You get the idea.
Juicing for health
JuiceRecipes offers a long list of health benefits and health conditions with recipes for which fruits and vegetables to juice for each. For Alzheimer’s prevention: apple, orange, and celery. If Alzheimer’s is already present: apple, carrot, kale, red bell pepper, cilantro, and collard greens. For colon cancer: coconut, orange, and peach. For detoxification (only one of many reasons to juice, not the reason as the aforementioned companies claim): apple, strawberry, and lime. For sore throat: tomato, green bell pepper, celery, cilantro, spring onion, garlic, cayenne pepper, and Himalayan salt. And on and on, for a long list of conditions that includes everything from pain to weight loss, from kidney stones to low libido, from acne to leukemia.
Is there any health condition that juicing would not benefit? Would using the wrong mix of ingredients for a condition make things worse? How do you suppose they determined which juices are good for which conditions? Intuition? Divine revelation? Gut feeling? Dowsing with a pendulum? Shamanic journeying? A dart board? They certainly didn’t use the only reliable method: scientific testing.
To my mind, wheatgrass juice is one of the worst fads. People brave enough to drink that nasty green glop testify that it tastes even more putrid than it looks. It makes no sense: cows can digest grass; humans can’t, even in juice form. Proponents say it is a powerhouse of nutrients and vitamins; but according to the Jamba Juice website, it only contains 7% DV (the recommended daily allowance) of vitamin C, 10% DV of iron, 1% DV of protein, and 0% of everything else. The enzymes in wheatgrass are highly touted, but they can’t be used by the human body. I see no rational argument for consuming wheatgrass. It contains only small amounts of nutrients that we already get in larger amounts from a healthy diet.
The health benefits claimed for wheatgrass include:
- Strengthens heart and arterial tissue
- Lowers blood fat
- Reduces inflammation
- Treats degenerative diseases
- Drains the lymphatic system
- Flushes out toxins
- Dissolves scars in the lungs
- Maintains youthfulness by its enzyme content
- Normalizes high blood pressure
- Regenerates the liver
- Stimulates healing
- Works as a hangover cure
The evidence for those claims? None whatsoever. Zilch. Nada.
Juicing for Weight Loss
To lose weight, the website Reboot with Joe recommends juicing a mixture of pineapple, kale, celery, lettuce, both flat and curly parsley, lemon, ginger, turmeric, and “chilli’s”. Substitutions are permitted: pear and apple for pineapple, spinach for kale, mint for parsley, etc. It seems to me you could substitute anything at all and it would probably be just as effective. I’m sure you will lose weight while drinking any mixture of fruit and vegetable juices, providing you also reduce your total calorie intake and exercise.
The JuiceRecipes website helpfully tells us “Juice is juiced with a juicer.” Juicers sell for $30 to $1200. Or you can use a blender and strain the result through cheesecloth. You discard the pulp and drink the juice. It retains the soluble fiber but not the insoluble fiber.
Another option is to blenderize your produce and keep the insoluble fiber. Not as pleasant to drink.
Do-it-yourself proponents like Reboot with Joe argue that commercial juices are processed and lacking in nutrition while freshly juiced fruits and vegetables are loaded with an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Processed juices are subjected to high temperatures (pasteurization) and may have added sugars. They may be supplied in low quality plastic bottles that allow harmful chemicals to seep into the juice. They argue that commercial facilities may not clean their equipment as thoroughly as you can do at home; and there have been reports of contamination with bacteria, which is particularly a danger for pregnant women, children, and the immunocompromised. When preparing your own juice, you can wash your hands and produce well and peel produce to remove pesticide residue. You can mix and match. You can even save the pulp and use it in baking, soups, veggie burgers, healthy cookies, crackers and much more.
There are some reports of reduced amounts of certain nutrients (like antioxidants and glutathione) in commercially produced juices compared to homemade juices; but the amounts are probably not enough to make any significant difference in nutritional value, and there is no evidence of any detectable difference in health outcomes.
Juice v. Whole Fruits
Whole fruits are unquestionably healthier than juices, since the insoluble fiber has not been removed. Insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation and diverticular disease and may reduce the risk of some cancers. A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that eating more whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes, and apples, was associated with a lower risk of diabetes, while greater consumption of fruit juices was associated with a higher risk of diabetes. They estimated that swapping three servings of juice a week for whole fruits would result in a seven percent reduction in diabetes risk.
The only rational argument I have heard for juicing is that some people don’t eat enough servings of fruits and vegetables. There could be many reasons: they may not like the taste, they may not have ready access to fresh produce, they may not be able to afford them, they may not want to take the time to prepare them, they may have difficulty chewing, or they may lack an appetite. It is easier to get them to drink juice than to eat more whole fruits and vegetables. I guess that’s better than nothing, but it would make far more sense to just increase the intake of whole foods. It’s a bit like saying people should take a multivitamin as insurance to make up for possible deficiencies in their diet: that’s an ill-conceived band-aid measure that may do more harm than good. Studies have shown that people who take multivitamins are likely to die sooner and to develop certain cancers.
The bottom line: juicing is a silly fad that provides no special benefits for people who eat a healthy diet.
This article was originally published as a SkepDoc column in Skeptic magazine.