When slugger Josh Hamilton—whose reported battle with alcohol and drugs extracted him from pro baseball for three seasons—showed up for spring training with the LA Angels this year some 20 pounds lighter, he credited his stealth trim-down and beaming new health vibe to juicing. Add that to all of the other detox buzz, and you’ve got to wonder: Should everyone be storming the appliance store or racing to the juice bar?
You already know that diets packed with fruits and vegetables reduce your risk for leading causes of death and play a key roll in weight management—and you likely also know that most of us don’t get the five servings a day recommended by the USDA. (In fact, the latest CDC data shows that only a third of US adults eat two-plus fruits, and about a quarter get three-plus veggies, daily. Yikes.) So to close up that gap, most experts agree that juicing can help pack more nutrients into your day. There’s some research (like this 2010 study in the journal Nutrition) that supports that recommendation as well.
Still, it’s not as simple as chug juice, get healthy. Here’s what our MF nutrition experts say you need to know:
1. Supplement, don’t cleanse. Nutritionists largely agree that juicing can offer a low-fat, nutrient-rich jolt of energy when added to already healthy, balanced diets—but as far as the cleanse-for-weight-loss meal replacement trend? Juice digests quickly, and can cause the type of extreme hunger that leads to overeating and binging. “Drinking juice in lieu of eating food is not healthy or sustainable, no matter how nutrient-packed,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RD, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Juice cleanses (read: fasts) can also lead to unstable blood sugar, headaches, and lightheadedness.
2. Pick the right ingredients. Here’s the deal: Some vitamins are more easily absorbed as juice, such as vitamin C and the Bs, while others, like vitamin A, E, K are best taken through the full digestion process, says Cohn. And some vegetables, such as tomatoes, actually provide more nutritional value when cooked, points out Kelly O’Connor, RD, LDN, a registered dietician at Baltimore-based Mercy Medical Center. Taking that into account, these best bets that will maximize nutrition: leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, swiss chard, kale, mustard greens), kiwi, papaya, grapefruit, red bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, oranges, asparagus and garlic. Cherie Calbom, MS, CN, author of The Juice Lady’s Big Book of Juices & Green Smoothies also favors parsley, blood-pressure-lowering beets (combine with carrot or apple to enhance taste), inflammation-fighter ginger root, potassium-packed cucumbers, and antibacterial lemons. Avoid overly mushy or tender fruits, like bananas (if craving potassium, use half) and peaches, which can make your juice too thick and mushy, says Cohn.
3. Find the perfect mix. Warning: Vegetable juice might not knock your socks off at first, so you’ve got to experiment. Plot how you'll keep a variety of produce stocked, then have fun with it. Start with two cups of greens, which can taste bitter, balanced by one piece of fruit. Then, play around with the ratio, adding cayenne pepper or cinnamon for extra seasoning if desired. (Still not sure where to begin? We asked the experts for their favorite combos—grapefruit-orange-kale-cucumber for Cohn and carrot-apple-ginger for Calbom.)
4. Sip fast. Whipping up batches of liquid vitality for the week, or even day, isn’t most potent. “Guzzle that juice immediately,” says Cohn. “By changing the texture and integrity of fruits and vegetables from solid to liquid and removing protective skins, the foods quickly start to lose nutrients.”