To Juice or Not to Juice? That is the question

Spring is definitely in the air, despite our wildly fluctuating New England temperatures.  Along with spring, many of us start thinking about improving the eating habits that we let slide over the winter months when our bodies were telling us to hibernate.  In recent years, juicing has become a popular way to do a "detox" and kick start a healthier way of eating.  Interestingly, blended smoothies seem to have become yesterday's news in favor of juicing.  So, the question today is, which is better, juicing or blending?  

First, for those who may not know already, what is the difference between juicing and blending?  Juicing is when a whole fruit or vegetable is either pressed or run though an electric juicing machine which separates the liquid portion of the fruit from the fibrous or solid portion.  In blending, the entire edible portion of the fruit/vegetable is blended together into a more liquid form which is typically thicker than juice.

The good

While juicing and blending are not equal in all respects, here are some good things they have in common.

  • Nutritional improvement: For those seeking to improve the nutrient content of their diet, juicing or blending can be a quick and easy way to add fruit and vegetables which might be less palatable on their own.  I've always had trouble with beets by themselves, but stick one in a smoothie and other than the lovely purple color it lends to the drink, I'd never know it was there.   So for the picky eaters in your house, you can sneak some veggies in and they will be none the wiser.
  • Time: If you are short on time (aren't we all these days?), it is a great way to boost your nutrition while on the go.   You can also prepare little freezer bags with your favorite ingredient combinations ahead of time, so that you can quickly blend or juice it and dash the door.
  • Variety: The only limit to flavor combinations is your imagination and your palate.    A quick Google or Pinterest search will yield a nearly limitless number of flavor combinations, one of which is sure to hit the spot no matter what.

The Better

Here is where we start to find differences between juicing and blending.  While both offer nutritional benefits, there is some food for thought when deciding which may be best for you and your family.

  • Fiber: Fiber has many benefits to our bodies and comes in different forms each with their own specific effects.  One thing it helps with is to "clean out the pipes" by absorbing water and providing bulk as food travels through our intestines.  Fat in our foods will stick to the insoluble fiber we eat and can be carried out without being absorbed.  While a big bowl of fiber isn't necessarily going to sop up all the fat in the double cheeseburger you just ate, it can help to a small degree.  Some forms of fiber have been shown to benefit a number of the "good" bacteria in our intestines, helping them to help you by breaking down foods you eat into things your body is better able to absorb and use.  Fiber has been shown to have a positive impact on glycemic control, cholesterol levels and in recent mouse studies indicates a protective function by preventing bacteria in our gut from eating away at the protective mucus layer in our intestines (Desai et al, Cell, Nov. 2016).  Since blending retains the fiber present in fruits and vegetables while juicing actively removes that fiber, it gains an edge over juicing on this count.
  • Nutritional content: Many of the vitamins, minerals and other good-for-you stuff that lead us to eat our fruits and veggies are present in both blended and juiced drinks.  However, an interesting study which looked at the nutritional content of hand squeezed, electric juicer and blended grapefruits did find some important differences.  Generally speaking the blended grapefruits retained much more of the nutritious, health benefiting compounds than either hand or electric squeezed (Uckoo et al, J Food Sci, Sept. 2012).  Most importantly, however for those of us watching our waistline or our blood sugar levels, juices tend to contain a higher sugar content than the same volume of blended foods.  Think about it this way: you might squeeze 4 oranges to get a glass of juice which you can easily drink without feeling full but what if you ate those 4 oranges?  The odds are that you wouldn't eat all 4 of them at one time, reducing both your calorie and sugar intake..  

So, what is best for you?  In general, blending up a smoothie in your VitaMix is provides more nutritional benefits than juicing.  Does that mean that you shouldn't juice at all?  No.  But, be sure to juice in moderation especially if your aim is weight loss or if you have blood sugar regulation.