Thursday, 28 January 2016 12:00:00 PM Australia/Melbourne

A decade ago, juicing was considered a diet fad or something done only by extreme health nuts. These days, there is a juice bar on every corner and juicing devices hold centre stage in every electronics retail outlet, rather than being relegated to late night infomercials.

So what is juicing and why is it suddenly so popular? And are the many health claims fact or fiction? Some of the many questions we explore in this article, along with some potential food-medication interactions that everyone should be aware of.

Juicing is simply the process of extracting the juice from fresh fruits and vegetables (ie fresh pressed fruits and vegetables not the store bought, sweetened variety); A range of kitchen appliances are now available to support this pursuit, from the simple to the sublime. Drinking the juice from fruit and vegetables means you benefit from the high water content and much of the vitamin and mineral content. Typically, juice extractors removed the pulp and therefore removed the high fibre benefits but modern juicing devices (such as the Nutri-Bullet or similar) have been designed to retain the pulp, resulting in a thicker yet more fibrous juice.

Proponents of juicing like to argue that drinking juice is more nutritious than simply consuming fruits and vegetables. But does that argument have merit? While there is a great deal of research regarding the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, there is very little research-based evidence surrounding the benefits of juice alone.

Dieticians who have compared the equivalent ratio of whole fruit to fruit juice have found that there is really little difference, and that whole foods ultimately tend to stack up a little better (especially against juicers that do not include the pulp).

So what does existing research and a little common sense help us understand about the benefits of the juicing trend.

Improved health?

Juicing is no healthier than eating whole fruits and vegetables; gram for gram, juice is no more nutritious than the whole produce. In fact, it can be lower in many nutrients and can offer zero fibre benefits (when using a pulp free juicing method). Contrary to some claims, your body does not absorb the nutrients better in juice form.

However, many people prefer drinking juice to eating whole fruits and vegetables. And it can be easier to consume a larger amount of fruit and vegetables in a juice drink than when eating them during meal. So in this case, juicing can help to increase your overall consumption of fruit and vegetables in line with daily guidelines.

Juicing can also be a way to incorporate nutrient rich fruits or vegetables that you might not normally eat. Beets, kale and spinach tend to be less noticeable when combined with the flavours of fruits and berries.

As a rule, drinking juice should not be the only means by which you consume fruit and vegetables though, so finding other ways to increase your daily intake remains important.

Cleanse or Detox?

Put simply, juice will not cleanse your body. There is no scientific evidence to show that juices help to eliminate toxins. To keep your organs functioning at peak performance, a balanced diet comprising minimally processed, nutrient dense foods is needed. The body cannot survive on the nutrients in fruits and vegetables (or their juice) alone.

Furthermore, healthy adults have no reason to give the gut a rest from fibre intake. For optimal intestinal function and overall health, it is best to consume nutrient-dense, fibre rich foods every day.

Health Concerns?

Juicing could have potential food-medication interactions and medical complications for some people. As with any significant change to diet or exercise, it is important to consult with your healthcare professional or an accredited dietician before making changes to your diet – especially those taking medication or those with kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease or hypertension.

For example:

  • increasing foods high in vitamin K, such as spinach and kale, may affect anti-blood clotting medication
  • grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interact with more than 30 common medications
  • increasing fruit juice intake can increase carbohydrate intake and raise blood sugar levels in people with diabetes
  • the higher potassium intake from fruits and vegetables may be dangerous to someone with kidney disease

Everything in Moderation

When enjoyed in moderation, freshly squeezed or blended juice is a healthy and tasty way to get some of your daily dose of vitamins and minerals. However, the best way to promote optimal health is to eat a well-balanced diet that comprises all of the food groups. If you are set to start sampling the juicing trend, then here are some last considerations to take into account.

Added bonus, not replacement
Unless your digestion is compromised, you should not use juice as a replacement for whole fruits and vegetables. Juice is simply a supplemental way of getting more nutrients.

Drink now, not later
Freshly made juices are without preservatives or pasteurisation making them highly perishable –and juice loses its nutritional value almost immediately. So drink your mixture shortly after juicing or blending. If you cannot consume it all, freeze the leftovers immediately in ice cube trays and then pop them into freezer bags. These make great additions to other juices or smoothies later.

Minimise fruit or starchy vegetables
Fruit and starchy vegetables, such as beets and carrot, are very high in sugar so remember to limit these in your recipe mix. The ideal ratio of non-starchy vegetable to starchy-vegetable or fruit is 4 to 1.

Spice up the flavour
You can use herbs, spices and extracts to add flavour to your juice blends – think basil, mint, coriander, cayenne, ginger and cinnamon.

Go organic
Use organic produce if possible, to avoid the pesticides and other synthetic chemicals conventional produce is sprayed with. But, let’s be real – sometimes organic just is not possible so be sure to thoroughly wash the produce before you blend. Also wash your juicing machine carefully after each use with hot soapy water according to the manufacturer's directions. Just rinsing it out may not be enough to keep it clean and sanitary.