It’s been about a decade since I lugged my Juiceman out of the back reaches of my kitchen cabinet. When I first bought the juicer, I used it daily, creating fresh, tasty concoctions with just about anything I could find in my fridge’s vegetable drawer. But scrubbing the pulp stuck in the blades of the Juiceman always took longer than the actual juicing, so I stopped because I didn’t have the time. Now I’m in my early 40s and concerned about age-related aches, occasional acid reflux, weight gain and even scarier possibilities, such as my increased risk of cancer (both my parents had the disease). The research is clear that eating antioxidant-packed produce can decrease the odds of getting many conditions—from digestive woes and skin problems to diabetes and cancer—so it’s high time I start juicing again.
Why raw is right on
Even though I try to load my plate with greens as often as possible, experts say I might not be getting all the nutrients those vegetables offer if I’m cooking them. That’s because heat destroys some nutrients and enzymes, says Michael Murray, N.D., author of The Complete Book of Juicing: Your Delicious Guide to Youthful Vitality (Clarkson Potter). He notes that cooking vegetables can destroy up to 97 percent of vitamins B and C, and up to 40 percent of vitamins A, D, E and K. The pasteurization process used for packaged juices also kills nutrients and enzymes, he says.
“If you don’t eat enough raw foods, you’re not getting adequate cancer-fighting phytonutrients like free-radical-scavenging carotenes and alkalizing chlorophyll and anti-viral flavonoids,” says Murray. To reduce my risk of chronic disease, he suggests I eat 50 percent of my daily vegetables (five to seven 1∕2-cup servings) and fruits (one to two 1∕2-cup servings) raw.
“Fresh juices are an excellent way to get a concentrated shot of plantbased nutrients in a readily absorbable form,” he says. Because juicers break down the indigestible fiber’s cell wall, the nutrients inside are released and immediately absorbed by your own cells. But, even though some fiber is retained in juiced fruits and vegetables, I’ll still need to eat plenty of produce to reach a woman’s recommended daily intake of 25 grams of fiber.
Juice for your digestive tract
Celebrity dietitian and Natural Health contributing editor Ashley Koff, R.D., recommends I supplement my diet with 8 to 12 ounces of starch-free vegetable juice or 4 ounces of fruit (or starchy vegetable) juice a day. “Juicing gives your digestive system a rest,” says Koff. “When you drink your vegetables, your body doesn’t have to produce digestive enzymes to break down the food to access the nutrients.” Most raw produce contains enzymes, and apples, pears, pineapple, carrot and kale have especially high levels of digestive enzymes. To up the power of juice even more, don’t gulp it down. “Sip and ‘chew’ your juice to engage your mouth and send a message to your brain that you’re feeling full and satisfied,” says Koff.
Along with easing digestive woes, juicing can lead to more energy, increased immunity, anti-aging effects, better bone health and weight loss, says Nicole Cormier, R.D., co-author of The Everything Juicing Book (Adams Media). To determine which fruits and vegetables to include in your juice recipes based on your own health needs, check out “What to Juice” at left.
Getting the mix just right
OK. So the benefits of juicing have me convinced that it’s worth my time. But when I start juicing again, I jam all the fruits I can find in my juicer to sweeten up the greens. Then I learn I might be harming my body instead of healing it. “Drinking fruit juice can spike your blood sugar and potentially lower your immunity,” says Koff. “Instead of lots of fruit, add cinnamon or soaked almonds to sweeten a green juice.” Koff also recommends adding a protein source (like hemp seeds) or a healthy fat (like flax seeds or oil) to fruit, carrot or beet juice (carrots contain more sugar than most veggies) to help offset the blood sugar spike these sweet juices can cause. Kris Carr, author of Crazy Sexy Diet (skirt!) follows a blood sugar stabilizing ratio of 3-vegetables-to-1-fruit when she juices.