By Sean Michael Hall, L.Ac. – June 17, 2014
Juicing can be a tasty, enjoyable and nutritious part of a healthy lifestyle. However, some guidelines are important to make sure you are juicing in a way that is truly healthy for you. As most of you know, juicing only fruit can result in a large spike in blood sugar levels. And some have constitutions or digestive systems that make juicing less enjoyable and less healthy, especially at certain times of the year. Following these simple guidelines will allow most people to enjoy fresh juice in the healthiest way possible.
1. Don’t over do it. The traditional medicine systems of China and India teach us that strong digestive fire is essential to good health. Digestive fire in Ayurveda is known as agni, and in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) it involves abundant Spleen and Stomach Qi. Too many cold or raw foods can challenge and even harm our digestive fire. If your digestive fire is strong, juicing in the warmer months usually isn’t a problem and can be very healthy. But, if you are prone to digestive problems like indigestion, gas or bloating, then juicing may not be appropriate for you. Individuals with cold, weak constitutions may have to enjoy fresh juice in moderation. Those with the weakest or coldest constitutions may benefit more from soups, stews and broths, even in the warmer months.
2. Limit the amount of fruit, carrots and beets. Juicing fruit and sugary vegetables like carrot and beet should be done in moderation. Recent research shows the harmful effects fructose, the sugar found in fruit and some vegetables, has when it isn’t buffered by the fiber found in the whole food. Drinking 8 ounces of apple juice, for example, is in most ways as unhealthy as drinking 8 ounces of soda. Yes, fruit juice has some vitamins and other healthy phytochemicals. Unfortunately, the beneficial effects of those constituents are offset by both a surge in blood glucose levels, as well as a fructose overload on the liver that has other negative effects.   Our bodies need both the fiber found in the whole food, as well as the slower consumption time involved in eating the whole food, to mitigate those negative effects. For optimal health, fruit, carrots and beets should be added to your juice for a little flavor and sweetness, not as the main ingredient. Enjoy lots of fresh fruit, but eat all of it, not just the juice.
3. Enjoy fresh juice in the spring and summer. Save juicing for the warm months of spring and summer. Your system needs warm, grounding meals in the cold, winter months to keep your digestive fire strong. Some with very strong digestive fire are the exception, but even in that case, care should be taken.
4. You may need to go easy with cruciferous vegetables. There are some vegetables that require more digestive fire than others, and this is especially true of cruciferous vegetables. The cruciferous vegetables include kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and brussel sprouts. Of course, plenty of research tells us how amazingly healthy the cruciferous vegetables are. But, any food prepared in a way that wrecks digestive fire and causes bloating or gas is not good for you. Simply sautéing cruciferous vegetables will allow you to get the benefit of those vegetables in a way your body can handle. If your digestive fire is strong and you don’t get gas or bloating from juicing cruciferous vegetables, then by all means, enjoy!
5. Add ginger. Adding a touch of ginger, turmeric or garlic (gasp!) to your juice can help support your digestive fire, plus give a zing of flavor. Don’t overdo it. A little too much ginger or turmeric can be very spicy, and too much garlic may make you smellier to others than you may want.
6. Keep it fresh. Bottled, canned, cooked, or reconstituted juices lack most of the enzymes and other micronutrients that make fresh juicing so healthy. Buy fresh, local produce; juice it within a few days; then drink it the same day for maximum nutrition and flavor. There are a lot of great juicers on the market at a variety of price points. I recommend doing your research and finding one for less than 100 dollars if you’re just getting started. If you find that you’re juicing regularly, you may want to upgrade at some point.
Raw versus cooked. Some have a misconception that raw foods are easy to digest. For the most part, the opposite is true, especially if the cooked food is eaten soon after cooking. Cooking foods breaks cellulose and other constituents down into more easily digestible forms. Cooking also transforms some toxins into nutrients; this is especially true of many legumes. And lycopene, another well-known nutrient, is created through the cooking process. Yes, many nutrients and enzymes are lost during the cooking process, so including some raw foods in your diet is a great idea. Generally speaking, the stronger your digestive fire, the more raw foods you’ll be able to tolerate. Fermented foods like kvass, sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables, are a great way to consume raw foods in a more digestible form, as the fermentation process partially digests the food for us, creating healthy probiotics and other important nutrients in the process.
Take home message: Fresh juice is healthy for those who have digestive fire strong enough to digest it, especially in the warmer months of the year. If you get gassy or bloated after juicing it means you are not getting the benefits of the juice, and they are causing harm instead. Nothing is healthy for everyone. Your body needs to be able to digest, metabolize and absorb nutrients, and if your system is unable to do that, then even supposedly healthy foods are not healthy for you. If you are having problems digesting fruits and vegetables in one form, like juice or raw salads, then support your digestive fire, and try steaming or sautéing them instead.
 “Fructose Consumption is Associated with Cardiometabolic Risk Markers and Visceral Adiposity in Adolescents”. J. Nutr., 2012.
 “Fructose Induced Lipogenesis: From Sugar to Fat to Insulin Resistance”. Trends Endocrinol. Metab., 2011.