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You Ask, I Answer: Is Juicing the Best Avenue for Vegetables?

celery juice -Green DelightI watched a documentary called Crazy Sexy Cancer, and in it, director/star Kris Carr talks about the benefits of juicing vegetables. In the book version, she writes, “By removing the fiber through the process of squeezing the pulp, we instantly lighten our digestive load. Nutrients pass directly into the bloodstream, and within minutes our bodies receive optimum fuel to feed our cells and restore our immune systems.”

She says that drinking this juice concoction is better than eating each of the ingredients.

She goes on to say that we of course need fiber as well, but I was a little confused by the “digestive load” bit. Any truth to that?

– Jenn DiSanto
Philadelphia, PA

I need to start my answer with a disclaimer — I enjoy fresh juices.  Once a week or so, you’ll find me sipping on guzzling down a kale, celery, cucumber, Granny Smith apple, parsley, lemon, and ginger concoction at my favorite local juice bar (which conveniently happens to be two blocks from my gym).  I point this out to make it clear that I do not “scoff” at juicing (as some people in my field sadly do).

With that out of the way, let me tackle your question.

Juicing undoubtedly delivers nutrition.  Although — as Ms. Carr points out — you do not get the benefit of fiber, fresh fruit-and-vegetable juices certainly deliver vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants.

That lack of fiber, by the way, is why I recommend that the majority of your fruit and vegetable intake come in a whole (rather than liquid) form.  True, you could get fiber from other foods throughout the day.  However — and this is especially important when it comes to fruit juices — fiber helps prevent massive spikes in blood sugar.

If you eat two apples in one sitting, the fiber in the fruit provides a certain blood sugar stabilization mechanism.  Juice two apples (and drink them without any fiber-containing food as an accompaniment) and it becomes more problematic (blood sugars will rise quite a bit, requiring the pancreas to work harder to pump out more insulin).

I often recommend that people who juice regularly drink juices that are at least half-vegetable, as this helps to keep the sugar content down.

As far as “lightening” the digestive load; it’s a claim that sounds awfully vague to me.  Would eating (rather than juicing) two whole cucumbers really take a heavy toll on our digestive systems, considering that they are mostly water?  This claim particularly frustrates me because it makes it seem like eating vegetables is somehow undesirable, unhealthy, or “too much” for the body to handle.  Absurd.

I’m also confused by Ms. Carr’s statement that juicing is superior because “nutrients pass directly into the bloodstream and within minutes our bodies receive optimum fuel.”  No matter what you eat, nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine.  It is true that nutrition from juice is absorbed faster into the bloodstream than, say, chickpeas or an avocado.  But, to that I say — “so what”?  Does it make an avocado “less healthful” or “hard to digest”?  Of course not.

Furthermore — nutrient absorption is not a race.  The fact that the vitamin C in a juice is absorbed faster than from a whole apple is a moot point.  Absorption times have nothing to do with how efficient a nutrient does its work in the body.

Juicing sometimes gets hyperbolic accolades.  It’s certainly  healthful, but there is absolutely nothing lacking from your diet if you’re chewing — rather than drinking — your vegetables.

PS: If you are a green juice lover like myself and you ever find yourself in New York City, I highly recommend you stop by One Lucky Duck.  The Thai Green (kale, chard, pineapple, cilantro, and lime) is one of my personal favorites, as is the Fruit Spice (pears, pineapple, and ginger).

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2 Comments

  1. Becca said on February 3rd, 2011

    Thank you for providing the voice of reason! It baffles me how some people are allowed to state complete nonsense as if it were fact on these shows – I’m thinking of “Dr” Gillian McKeith and her claim that chlorophyll from eating green vegetables oxygenates our blood. Oh dear.

    I was wondering – what are your thoughts on smoothies and purées when compared with whole vegetables, assuming water content remains the same?

  2. Andy Bellatti said on April 13th, 2011

    Becca,

    Smoothies and purees are comparable to their whole food counterparts, especially if you make them in a blender like the Vitamix where you can throw half an apple with peel and everything. Eating a banana and blending frozen banana slices is nutritionally equivalent.

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