In simpler times, juice was straightforward. “I’m having juice” usually meant you were reaching for a carton of Tropicana, and the most complicated decision was between 'Some Pulp' and 'Lots of Pulp.'
Juice has become trendier since then, and more complicated. With juice bars popping up all over the country, customers can grab their favorite carrot-beet-apple-kale-parsley (don’t forget the fresh ginger) concoction on the way to work. It’s not uncommon to have a juice maker at home, or to know someone who swears by the health benefits of a juice cleanse.
Fresh fruit and vegetable juices are undoubtedly better for you than many other summer drinks, with all due respect to Frappuccinos. But they can have drawbacks along with their benefits, both of which are useful to know if you’re planning on juicing this summer.
First, the benefits. Juicing can be an effective way to ensure that your body gets the nutrients it needs. Because juice condenses large quantities of fruits and vegetables (it takes about a pound of carrots to make 8 ounces of carrot juice), drinking juice provides more servings of produce than you could eat whole. Juice is also easy to digest because it doesn’t contain fiber. Your body absorbs a rush of vitamins and natural sugars, which heighten your energy level and make you feel good.
But both of those benefits have to be qualified. The nutritional value of juice depends on whether it was made with a centrifugal juicer or a masticating juicer. Centrifugal juicers are more common—they’re often used in juice bars, and are also the type of juicer most people have at home. They contain a metal blade that spins at high speeds against a filter, letting the juice through while retaining the pulp, pith, and seeds. The unfortunate by-products of that process are heat and oxidation, which destroy many of the natural enzymes and vitamins. If your juice was made using a centrifugal juicer, it has fewer nutrients than you might think.
Instead, look for juice that was made with a masticating, or cold-press, juicer. Cold-press juicing is exactly what its name suggests—the process produces no heat, and creates juice by pressing fruits and vegetables—and retains up to five times as many nutrients as centrifugal juicing. If you’re buying from a place that makes their own juice, ask a staffer whether they use cold-press. The downside is that if you’re looking to buy a juicer, a cold-press is significantly more expensive than a centrifugal juicer.
And the indigestible fiber that's removed during the juice-making process? It's actually essential for good health, and most Americans don't consume enough. Fiber lowers cholesterol, balances blood sugar levels, and makes you feel full. Foods with fiber are absorbed slowly, giving you sustained energy. That's why a smoothie, which still has fiber-rich pulp and pith, will keep you full longer than a juice with the same ingredients. On a related note, juicing does generate food waste since you're throwing away a significant part of the fruits and vegetables you use (though cold-press juicing minimizes waste by extracting juice more efficiently).
In summary: try to buy cold-pressed, consider a smoothie, and remember that juice isn't a substitute for eating fruits and vegetables. Just be prepared to wait in a few lines for your drink—you'll have plenty of company.