The Truth About Juicing

Clinical nutritionists Shira Sussi and Helen Mullen on why you should eat your fruits and vegetables, not drink them.

Two glasses of green juice
Two glasses of green juice

Thanks to celebrities, social media influencers, and health gurus, celery juice is the latest wellness trend that’s creating buzz. Carefully curated, filtered photos of the bright green juice are popping up everywhere on Instagram feeds, with captions touting a long list of reported health benefits, including claims that it reduces inflammation, strengthens bones, heals the gut and microbiome, and is beneficial for people who have chronic illnesses.

While some may supplement their diet with a juice, many folks are relying on juices as meal replacements. Another popular trend are juice cleanses or “fasts” for a so-called detox or to quickly lose weight.

But is drinking copious amounts of juice really good for you?

In a nutshell: No. Health Matters turned to Shira Sussi, MS, RD, CDN, a clinical nutritionist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Helen Mullen, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC, clinical nutrition supervisor at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, who explain why relying on juice for weight loss or its so-called cleansing properties has its drawbacks.

Does this hype around celery juice have any merit?
Helen Mullen: There are some weak studies that have been done involving the consumption of celery juice and its effects as an antioxidant and on blood pressure. I would not say that this has great merit. So far, there aren’t any good clinical studies that have been done using humans, so there’s no substantive data yet.

What makes celery juice so popular over other types of juiced veggies?
HM: There are claims of celery juice’s power as antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, and for blood sugar lowering. Also, celery juice can thank its intriguing, vibrant green color for some of its Instagram fame.

Does celery contain specific vitamins or nutrients that are absorbed better when consumed as a juice? Or is it just as good to eat celery whole as it is to drink celery juice?
HM: Celery does contain phytochemicals, vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin A, but there is no evidence that it is better for you in the juice form. In fact, when consumed as juice, you lose all of the beneficial fiber that helps to aid in digestion and improve your lipid panel.

“Beverages, including 100 percent fruit juice, count for almost half of all added sugars consumed by Americans.”

— Shira Sussi, MS, RD, CDN

In general, is drinking juice as healthy as eating whole fruits and vegetables?
Shira Sussi: No. With juice you get vitamins and minerals, but in the juicing process you lose the fiber that’s found in whole fruits and vegetables. Fiber helps promote gut health and regular bowel movements, as well as satiety and hunger, which can aid in weight management and loss. Fiber intake is also a dietary contributor to reduced risk of chronic diseases, like diabetes and obesity.

What is a juice fast? And is it healthy?
SS: Juice fasting or juice cleansing refers to limiting the diet to only juice extracted from fruits and vegetables, typically for a set period of time.

Fruit and vegetable juice can be part of a healthy diet and a way to get in additional servings of fruits and vegetables. Clinical research on juice cleanses, however, is limited. A juice cleanse typically involves lack of solid food and a low calorie intake. Long term, drinking just juice is not healthy since juice lacks protein, which could make it difficult to maintain muscle mass. Cleanses also could put you at risk for nutrient deficiencies since they lack fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids.

Is a juice cleanse an effective way to lose weight?
SS: A juice cleanse may result in short-term weight loss, which may be due to diuresis [the increased production of urine] versus true weight loss. I would not recommend it as an effective, long-term way to lose weight because drinking solely juice is not sustainable. Additionally, when you deprive the body of its favorite foods for an extended period of time you’re more likely to overeat and overindulge — and as a result regain the weight — once you return to your everyday eating habits.

Portrait of Helen Mullen, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC

Helen Mullen, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC

Doesn’t juice contain a lot of sugar and calories?
SS: Fruit juice, yes. With a fruit/vegetable juice, it depends on how much fruit has been juiced. I typically say if there’s more fruit than you would eat at one time, then it’s probably too much fruit, and therefore too much sugar, which could lead to weight gain over time. Vegetable juice typically doesn’t contain a lot of sugar and calories. It depends which vegetables are used. Beets and carrots, for example, are higher-sugar vegetables, while celery and greens, like kale and spinach, contain less sugar. I like to say aim for a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit in your juice.

Is there anything you would suggest people look out for or avoid when buying a prepackaged, fresh-pressed juice blend?
SS: Look at the expiration date. Fresh juice can develop harmful bacteria and should be consumed as fresh as possible. Also, look at the servings in the bottle and how many grams of sugar it has.

If a bottle of juice has two servings and 20 grams of sugar per serving, that’s 40 grams of sugar in one juice! One of the key recommendations from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugar. Beverages, including 100 percent fruit juice, count for almost half of all added sugars consumed by Americans.

Would you recommend trying this diet?
SS: Personally, I do not recommend a juice cleanse for long-term sustainable weight loss for my patients. I actually don’t recommend it even for short-term weight loss. If you have a health condition such as diabetes, I would not recommend juicing due to its concentrated sugar content and ability to trigger an increased insulin response. If you have renal disease you may need to limit your fluid intake and avoid certain nutrients filtered by the kidneys, like potassium, which is found in many fruits and vegetables (oranges, bananas, tomatoes, and spinach). Also, some juices high in vitamin K, like those with kale or spinach, may affect anti-blood clotting medication.

Portrait of Shira Sussi, MS, RD, CDN

Shira Sussi, MS, RD, CDN

What should one consider before deciding to try an all-juice diet?
SS: Ask yourself why you’re doing an all-juice diet. Is it for a reset? To detoxify? To lose weight? Remember, the body is designed to naturally detoxify itself with the help of the liver, skin, through sweating, kidneys, and through breathing. A three-, five-, or seven-day juice cleanse is not the answer to rid your body of toxins, especially if you go right back to the toxic exposures and habits you were engaging in before a cleanse, such as overconsumption of fast or fried foods, refined sugars, and artificial ingredients. The answer is to fuel your body daily with the key nutrients that support proper detoxification, like antioxidants, soluble and insoluble fiber, high-quality proteins, and herbs and spices that have anti-inflammatory properties. A fruit/vegetable juice can be a part of this healthy diet. You will reap far more health and weight benefits long term by partaking in eating and lifestyle habits that aid natural detoxification versus a juice cleanse.

Shira Sussi, MS, RD, CDN, is a clinical nutritionist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She works at the Charles B. Rangel Community Health Center, part of NewYork-Presbyterian’s Ambulatory Care Network, and the Outpatient Nutrition Practice at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia. She primarily works with pediatric patients, pregnant women, and adults living with obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and heart disease.

Helen Mullen, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC, is a clinical nutrition supervisor at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. She works primarily with cardiac patients and recently received her master’s in nutritional science.

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