Juicing: Is It Worth the Time and Expense?

An expert examines the benefits of the popular diet and detox trend.

Juicing is a popular way to increase one's intake of fruits and vegetables, but it may not be any healthier than eating whole foods. Photograph courtesy of Shutterstock.

When all else fails, the popular answer these days is, “Juice up.”

No, we’re not encouraging you to pull a Lance Armstrong. We’re talking about the juicing craze that’s hit the healthy-living community. Had a rough week of fatty foods and one too many beers? Detox with juice. Need to shed some pounds stat? Bust out the Vitamix. 

Juicers have invaded the kitchen counters of households all over. In fact, companies like Vitamix and Breville experienced a 71 percent increase in US sales in 2012, according to a recent article in Wall Street Journal. In DC, the juice craze has crept its way into restaurants as well, including Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar on H Street and Puree Juice Bar in Bethesda. 

But is a glass of juice squeezed from lemons, apples, celery, and kale a healthy alternative to an actual meal on a plate? Not really, says Cheryl Harris

“From a health perspective, whole foods are better for you than juicing any day,” says the registered dietitian, who admits she was briefly “swept away” by the juicing craze a few months ago. She explains that juicing fruits and vegetables strips away the fiber and even some nutrients, leaving you with a growling stomach and a potential headache just an hour or two after downing the glass. In addition, one has to drink the juice within 24 hours—any later and the juice can grow microbes, making you susceptible to food-borne illness. 

Blending is a better alternative, since drinking a smoothie allows one to consume the same fruits and vegetables but still receive the fiber and other vital nutrients. “You can gulp down eight ounces of juice without thinking twice, but few people would be able to eat three whole oranges without getting full on all the fiber,” Harris points out.

But juicing advocates offer the rebuttal that juicing allow one to increase fruit and vegetable intake, especially the foods you wouldn’t eat otherwise. Juices are also a good option for those who suffer from stomach issues, as the juice is more easily digested than whole fruits and vegetables. But there’s no sound scientific research that says juicing is altogether better and healthier than consuming whole foods. 

Another key to juicing is to make sure you’re not relying on juices alone. A friend of mine who juiced for every meal felt lightheaded to the point of nausea after just a few days. It also took a whole lot of lemons and other fruits to make up just a few ounces of juice. 

A smarter option is to mix in a glass or two with meals and healthy snacks throughout the day. Another colleague drank 64 ounces of juice a day (eight ounces each hour for eight hours), but allowed herself to eat a lean protein and vegetable for dinner each night. “By the time I finished I felt cleaner, lighter, and like I’d achieved my goal of resetting my eating habits after being terrible through the holidays,” she later told me. 

If you decide to invest in the craze, keep in mind there’s a cost involved: High-quality juicers can cost as much as $800.