Stroll any supermarket these days — especially the health-conscious ones – and where once there were aisles lined with soda pop, now they’re stocked with every kind of juice and juice drink imaginable. And while it’s good to see that sugary sodas and fizzy chemical-laden ‘diet’ drinks are on the wane, the switch-over may not be quite the healthy swap you’ve been led to believe. In fact, many juices wind up being so high in sugars, they’re comparable to soft drinks, minus the bubbles. For example, the average 12 oz. soda contains roughly 35 – 45 grams of sugar. The same amount of apple juice delivers about 40 grams and pomegranate juice can top 45 grams – way too much sugar no matter what you’re drinking. And bottled fruit and veggie combo drinks don’t fare much better. So, what’s a juice lover to do? Re-think your drink, ditch the juice box (or bottle) and juice like a grown-up. Here’s what you need to know in order to do it right:
Face the fruity facts: beware the sugar bomb.
Be they organic, industrial, processed, minimally processed, artisanal or curated, most of the juices on the market these days share one common unfortunate trait – sugar. On first read, you’ll note that the label likely includes an assortment of fruit and veggies juices. Fair enough.
However, things tend to go off the sugar rails when that list also includes seemingly healthy sounding ingredients like carrot juice, beet juice, and apple juice. Though these juices are not especially unhealthy in very small doses, in larger quantities, when used to sweeten your beverage, all those sugar grams really start to add up. The result is a sugar bomb – blood sugar spikes and crashes included – that’s far closer to a liquid dessert than a healthy beverage.
Your juice won’t fill you up, make you weigh less or keep you regular.
Juicing fruits, as well as higher-carbohydrate vegetables like carrots or beets, delivers a shot of fructose in liquid form, without any of the fiber. When you eat the whole apple, orange, or ruby-red beet, it’s the fiber that slows the sugar’s entry into your cells so you can metabolize them more slowly and safely – and support healthy digestion. Ever notice how you’re hungry right after your morning juice? That’s because it’s got no fiber, fat or protein to help fill you up – virtually the definition of empty calories.
And, if you’re drinking juices to help with regularity, you’re juicing up the wrong tree. All the healthy fiber you need to keep digestion and elimination humming has been strained out in the juicing process. Small wonder that juice cleanse fans frequently have issues with constipation (as well as blood sugar crashes).
Juice Like a Grown-Up.
If you like juicing, remember to use it to supplement an already vegetable-rich diet – not as a replacement for eating your veggies. I’d say, go easy on the juices in general and have whole foods be your default setting. But, if you’re going to go the juice route, be sure to build the most nutrient-dense, low-sugar juice possible – and here’s 4 tips to help:
#1 Make DIY your go-to
The first step to doing juice right is, not surprisingly, do it yourself. Only you can control the freshness, and keep the sugar, chemicals and additives out – and maximum nutrition in. Done right, juicing can give your body an infusion of phytochemicals, micronutrients, and electrolytes in an easily absorbable form, instead of flooding it with sugar and triggering metabolic disaster.
#2 Pack it with good green stuff
In general, I recommend avoiding juicing fruit altogether as well as higher-carbohydrate vegetables like carrots or beets, to avoid the fiber-free rush of fructose. Opt instead for low-carbohydrate vegetables, principally the green and white kinds like hydrating cucumbers, mineral-rich celery, and leafy greens like spinach, chard, and small amounts of kale (unless you have thyroid issues) and dandelion. You can also include roots with detoxifying and immunity-boosting benefits like burdock and ginger, herbs with anti-cancer benefits like parsley and cilantro, and a little antioxidant-rich and low-sugar lemon or lime. If you’re not ready to go totally fruit-free, then add a little bit of tart green apple for extra flavor.
#3 Manage your dose – particularly if someone else is making it
When you don’t have ready access to a juicer, the occasional bottled brew can give you a lift. Maybe. But keep in mind that even the green colored ones may not be as healthy as they appear. So, buyer beware and always check the sugar content before you buy. If it’s got more than 4 or 5 grams per serving (note: there are often two servings per bottle), leave it on the shelf and have a cup of organic tea instead.
Also keep in mind that nutrients in the commercial product start to degrade within hours of processing, so the bottled stuff (that was made two weeks ago and trucked in from hundreds of miles away) will likely deliver a considerably weaker nutritional punch than the kind you’d make yourself (and drink immediately).
If you like the occasional juice bar brew, then have your juice-master make yours a completely custom job, with greens only and remind them not to sweeten with added fruit. Ask for organic ingredients and, if you have to sweeten, you can do it (not them) by adding a little stevia or monk frut.
#4 Wean yourself off sweet, fruit-heavy juices
Switching from candy-sweet juices to unsweetened green juices can, for some, be a bit of a palate challenge. But keep in mind the guidelines that follow and you’ll soon find your groove. For some, the benefits of this habit go well beyond the ingestion of specific nutrients. I have seen that drinking green juice sometimes helps pave the way for an upgraded diet, contributing to a rewiring of eating patterns. Consuming more vegetables helps shift your palate so that over time, fresh, whole ingredients will be the ones your body craves. Here’s how to start the taste transition:
Commit to nixing super-sweet ingredients like fruit, and limit sugary vegetables like beets to being a small part of a green-filled blend (and only occasionally, not every day).
Enjoy milder-tasting light green juices that use celery and cucumber, with accents like lemon and ginger. Handfuls of spinach and romaine can boost nutrition without adding too much strong flavor. A small amount of tart green apple works here to give a touch of sweetness.
Gradually increase the darker greens in your mix (taking out your apple “crutch”). The bitter tastes of chard and kale signal that liver-supporting phytochemicals are at work.
Once dark-green juice becomes your new normal, begin to experiment with intense ingredients that broaden the health benefits and the flavor profile. Try cilantro and burdock root for detoxification, anticancer collards, blood-boosting wheatgrass shots, and liver-protective dandelion.