The Dark Side of Juicing

March 8, 2016

Whatever happened to chewing? Whether it’s cold-pressed, blended or boiled, slurping your supper has taken the health food scene by storm in recent years.

Instead of eating it whole, juicing raw fruits and vegetables into a single drink has been praised by proponents as a quick, low-calorie blast of nutrients or even a detox for the body if taken as a multi-day cleanse. Formerly the domain of trendy New York City juice bars, you’ll now find bottled greens at your grocery store or local Starbucks. Although juicing may be on the wane (we’ll get to why later) its hip, fiber-packed cousin, “souping,” is climbing to the top of cleanse diet charts. Souping — which is exactly what it sounds like — “is the new juicing,” as the New York Times declared in February.

So what’s the deal with the liquid food craze? Is it really worth paying upward of $10 a bottle for pulverized produce (or in the triple digits for multi-day cleanses)? And how does drinking meals for consecutive days affect human health, or even the health of the planet?

Juice explosion

According to Racked, juice cleanses hit the market in 2009 and jumpstarted the juice craze. The favored variety is cold-pressed juice, which gets its name from a machine that presses juice out of produce and leaves behind the pulp. The technique is favored over blending because some say the heat generated from the fast-spinning blades of a blender destroys the enzymes and nutrients of fruits and veggies.

Health food bloggers like Food Babe Vani Hari even swore off coffee for juice, claiming its rich shot of enzymes, vitamins and minerals is like drinking a natural version of Red Bull. “When juice is separated from the fiber of fruits and vegetables, it is easier for your body to absorb all the nutrients, giving you an instant boost of energy,” she claims.

While juicing has been part of holistic health routines for a long time — brought to the forefront in the 1970s with Jack Lalanne’s line of Power Juicers — juicing has exploded in recent years. Juice bars have popped up across the country, documentaries have been made and celebrities such as Blake Lively, Jennifer Aniston and Beyoncé have touted juice-only diets such as BluePrint, Organic Avenue and the Master Cleanse.

The market research firm IBISWorld says the $2 billion juice and smoothie bar industry has grown steadily over the past five years, with the cold-pressed juice sector alone taking in $100 million annually.

Bad mood food

Marisa Moore, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian nutrionist, explains to AlterNet that on the one hand, juicing does indeed have positive health benefits.

“You’re getting a concentrated source of nutrients and you’re getting them fresh, quickly and easily,” she says. “People who have a hard time eating vegetables are prime candidates for juicing because they can get vitamin C and some of the antioxidants without having to sit down and eat them.”

On the other hand, juicing can be bad for human health, especially long-term regimented cleanses that claim to clear your body of “toxins.” Never mind that your body already does a great job at detoxing, Moore says that juicing for days on end means you’re not getting any protein and you’re zapped of energy. (And probably left very cranky.)

Moore’s biggest qualm about juicing is that it can be very expensive and that valuable parts of the plants, such as skins and fiber, are left behind when it’s pressed.

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