Juicing is consistently associated with health and well-being and the majority of people have probably tried it at some time. From a Paleo perspective, one has to wonder about the benefits of having a juice.
There is a lot of health-positive marketing around drinking juice: when you walk into a juice shop and see phrases and words identified as healthy like cold-pressed, natural, organic or alkaline, and one has been conditioned to think that the food or beverage is therefore a great option for nourishment, especially when compared many of the other ‘on-the-go’ options.
When following a Paleo diet, fruit juice is not optimal, even if it’s 100% ‘natural’. Natural sugar is like any other sugar, and all varieties of juice make it really easy to consume a lot of sugar. You might think that vegetable juices are not in the same category and can be more beneficial than fruit juices. Truthfully, for most people they are not necessary and drinking juice may be actively unsupportive of your health goals.
Eating natural, organic, alkaline food is the foundation of your Paleo diet. This promotes optimal health, supports immune system function, and supports people in obtaining and maintaining their optimal wellness.
So how does juice fit into this picture?
For the most part, it doesn’t.
When people start juicing they often report a feeling of euphoria and many find their poor health symptoms (such as rashes, bloating, constipation, gas, acne) are quickly alleviated. This is most likely due to the fact that a juice fast/cleanse eliminates all the possible food allergens.
Most people are sensitive to dairy, wheat/gluten and other grains, soy and legumes. People are also often consuming large amounts of crop oils like soybean, canola, and corn oil found in processed foods and at most restaurants. The removal of these food toxins will dramatically improve health. This is similar to what happens on a juice fast, along with some other unintended consequences. Juicing can possibly provide a temporary solution at best, and long-term juicing can lead to other problems.
The Problem with Juicing
Blood Sugar Regulation
Fruit juices are really nothing more than sugar water. The fiber and many of the vitamins and minerals that are found in whole fruits are missing. This means juice contains all of the sugar without any of the nutrients. If your juices consist mostly of fruits, then you might as well be drinking soda (definitely not a Paleo option!). Many people get carried away with fruit when they are juicing resulting in a concentrated source of sugar. Most juicers remove the pulp and fiber which speeds the delivery of the glucose and fructose. Those fresh-pressed, organic juices made with carrots, pineapple, mango, papaya and bananas, for example can create a sugar rush. When the blood sugar levels crash several hours later you are left searching for more sugary treats (defeating the purpose of the juice cleanse/fast in the first place).
Although vegetables tend to be much lower in sugar caution is necessary. Vegetables like carrots and beets are fairly high in sugar, and juicing these vegetables is only marginally better than drinking apple juice.
One of the major problems with juicing is that many people drink green juice as a meal replacement which may be okay if done VERY sporadically and temporarily. Skipping fat and protein rich meals causes rapid blood sugar highs and lows. Blood sugar regulation is key to avoiding diabetes and may even be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
One big claim for juicing is the number of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants a fresh-pressed juice contains. This is true, but there is nothing in them that you cannot get from eating fruits and vegetables.
Some types of juices provide extremely high doses of certain nutrients, but there is no actual evidence that that having way more than you need of a specific nutrient will make you any healthier than simply eating what your body optimally needs. Of course, it is vitally important to get enough nutrients, but with water-soluble nutrients like B vitamins, what you end up with is very pricey urine, and with vitamins that do accumulate in your body, getting significantly more than you need can actually be dangerous.
It’s also not clear whether you gain any benefit from getting a huge dose of antioxidants. Antioxidants are hormetic stressors, which means that more of them isn’t necessarily better, and studies have had extremely mixed results as to whether supplementing with antioxidants via juicing actually provides any benefit.
From a Paleo perspective, it makes little sense to drink juices as a way of cleaning out or ‘detoxing’ the liver. Fruit juices contain a lot of fructose (the exact opposite of what your liver needs) and they are low in some important nutrients that your liver does need (like selenium).
When certain raw vegetables are squeezed into juice some of their compounds can concentrate. When vegetables like kale, spinach, cabbage and collards are cooked some of their goitrogen content is reduced. An overload of goitrogenic vegetables can interfere with iodine absorption and slow down thyroid function. If you eat these vegetables in their whole form you will most likely not be able to consume massive quantities because the fiber will slow you down and fill you up.
Healthy humans can eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to satisfy their nutritional needs without having to blend them up in a juicer. There is no additional benefit to juicing them.
Lack of protein and fiber
If you were to drink a green juice along with a few eggs fried in grass fed ghee, it will probably be fine. This is, however, an unlikely scenario. Many people drink a green juice for breakfast then wonder why they are starving and craving sugar by the time lunch rolls around. This is because a simple juice is not a meal. Green juice is usually a combination of water, sugar, and some minerals and vitamins. It is lacking the protein and fats needed to feed your cells and make your hormones.
Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. Eating enough of it is important for optimal digestion because it keeps the beneficial bacteria in your gut healthy and supports gut motility. Additionally, fiber may lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Juicing removes the majority of the fiber along with its benefits.
Digestion begins with the thought or smell of food. It continues in the mouth where food is chewed, broken down mixed with saliva and enzymes. This process cues stomach acid production and peristalsis. When someone is only having liquid food they may not send the right signals through the gut to start the process of digestion. If stomach acid is not released in sufficient amounts food will not get broken down and nutrients won’t be absorbed. The body does not recognize liquids (caloric or not) in the same way as solid food, partly because of how digestion begins – juices are often quickly swallowed and not chewed.
For some delicious options to get your digestive juices flowing, check out Pete’s Paleo weekly meal options.
Nature got it right the 1st time
Fruits and vegetables come in whole forms for a reason and they have evolved certain nutritional profiles that we have barely begun to understand. Foods often come with many of the nutrients and enzymes necessary to break them down and absorb them optimally. When a plant (vegetable or fruit) is pulverized and the pulp is removed from the water there may be certain phytonutrients or natural co-factors that will be missing. This is similar to the way we now understand that isolated and/or synthetic vitamins are not replacements for whole, real foods.
Juicing may be an option for people who somehow are unable eat fruits and vegetables any other way. This would include:
Someone having undergone bariatric surgery who now needs to restrict the volume of each meal to very small amounts.
Those challenged with digestive concerns, imbalances and/or bacterial or fungal overgrowth that results in an intolerance to most fibrous vegetables. In this case, reducing the fiber load is actually a benefit, not a drawback.
If you can eat vegetables, there’s no real reason why you should add juice to a vegetable-rich diet or replace some of your actual food with juicing.
The big reason I am a proponent of a Paleo diet is that it removes the common allergens that most people have problems with. These are same foods that most people eliminate on a juice fast which is often why they see great results. By eating grass fed meats, pastured poultry, or wild fish and organic vegetables at every meal you can stabilize your mood, stamina and energy whilst supporting your body’s healing and detoxing processes – no juice cleanse required.