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Harvard Commentaries
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Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Food for Thought Food for Thought
 

Juicing -- Fad or Fab?


July 10, 2013

 

By Rachel Zdebski, B.S., M.S.
Brigham and Women's Hospital

Looking to detoxify, lose weight or just get healthy? Consumers are scrambling to try "juicing" — the latest diet trend.

Sales of juicers in the United States climbed 71% to $215 million in 2012 from the previous year, according to market-research firm NPD Group.

Some juicing proponents suggest that a juice fast — drinking only juice for several days to months — can reverse chronic disease, jump start weight loss and "detox" the body. Some also recommend supplementing a regular diet with juices.

Does the research support these claims? Should you try juicing?

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A Look at the Evidence

A juicing machine removes the pulp of fresh fruit and vegetables. This extracts the juice. Juice recipes often use fruits and vegetables together in various combinations.

Drinking fresh juices you've made at home can help you:

  • Squeeze more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Less than one-third of adult Americans eat the recommended nine servings a day, according to the CDC.
  • Use up leftover produce and save money on groceries.
  • Increase your intake of healthy antioxidants, soluble fiber, vitamins and minerals.

In the past five years, some studies have found a potential link between certain juices and health:

More research is needed to identify the health benefits and safety of juicing.

On the other hand, decades of research have shown that a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables protects us from chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. In addition, a study found that increasing intake of whole green leafy vegetables by one serving was associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes in women.

Juicing removes the skin and insoluble fiber of fruits and vegetables. The juice itself has a different nutritive value and may not have the same health benefits as whole fruits and vegetables.

Consider this:

  • The vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content of a whole fruit, like an apple, is decreased significantly when you peel the skin.
  • One extra serving a day of juice may be associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in women.
  • Insoluble fiber can promote bowel regularity, lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugars and promote satiety (a sense of fullness) to maintain a healthy weight. Insoluble fiber, however, is lost in the juicing process.
  • Excessive intake of juice may cause weight gain and be dangerous for people with diabetes because juice is a concentrated source of calories and sugar.
  • Juices don't have protein, which keeps us full and helps maintain muscle mass for a healthy weight.

Aside from the nutritional considerations, juicing raises other concerns. For example:

  • Expense – Juicers range from $50 to $400.
  • Risk of bacterial growth – Unpasteurized juices can have harmful bacteria that cause serious infections.
  • Potential side effects – Juice fast diets to get rid of toxins in the body can cause diarrhea, fatigue and irritability.

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"Detox" Facts and Fiction

  • Environmental toxins can build up in the body (especially the intestines). FACT
  • A "detox" diet is generally low in calories and can result in initial weight loss. FACT
  • A "detox" diet is required to cleanse the intestines and body of waste products for good health. FICTION
  • Research has confirmed the safety of prolonged juice fasts and detoxification diets. FICTION

Believe it or not, your body comes equipped with a natural detoxification system in the form of the kidneys and liver. Healthy liver and kidneys filter the blood, expel toxins and cleanse the body continuously.

The intestines are also capable of daily "detox" with the help of fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, vegetables and plenty of water. This is a safe way to naturally detoxify your body.

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The Bottom Line

No published research currently supports the safety or efficacy of juice cleanses or fasts. Some types of juices are associated with health benefits, but more research is needed to determine cause-and-effect.

The literature says that drinking vegetable juice is a healthy way to increase your intake of vegetables. However, it should not replace fresh, whole vegetables in the diet. Whole fruits and vegetables have a higher nutritive value and can help the body to naturally detoxify itself.

Not quite filling up half of your plate with fruits and vegetables and considering juicing? Ask a registered dietitian if this diet change is safe for you. Supplementing your diet with fruit and vegetable juices may help to fill in the gaps for a healthier life.

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Rachel Zdebski received a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and a Master of Science in Nutrition and Health Promotion from Simmons College in Boston, MA. She just completed a dietetic internship at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

 

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