Juice is the health trend that just won’t go away. There’s a juicing shop on practically every city block, and everyone from your Spin instructor to your mother downs glasses of it daily. There’s no doubt that juicing is ubiquitous—but is it as healthy as everyone says?
Juice can help you consume more vitamins and minerals, and that’s a positive for people who struggle to eat enough fruits and vegetables. But experts say it may not deserve its health halo. In a paper published last winter in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, experts scrutinized several nutrition-hyped foods—including juice—and wrote that “whole food consumption is preferred” over a liquid diet.
Juice is missing an important component
While juice does contain the vitamins and minerals you’d find in fresh produce, it’s devoid of the vast majority of dietary fiber—the parts of the plant your body can’t digest. Just because your body doesn’t absorb fiber, however, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t use it.
And without the missing fiber, juice won’t keep you full. Research has found that drinking nutrients is less satisfying than eating them. “While your body likes the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants [in juice], juices lack fiber and don’t require chewing, so they’re less satiating than whole produce,” explains New York City-based dietitian Cynthia Sass.
Most juice is pure sugar
Most produce naturally contains sugar, and fruit typically packs more than vegetables. Without fiber in the mix, juice is essentially just the natural sugars and water found in its ingredients, says Scott Kahan, the director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C. Though natural sugar may seem harmless, your body does little to distinguish between the sugars in an apple versus those in a piece of candy, Kahan says.
Opting for green juice—that is, a juice made entirely or primarily from vegetables—is a smarter choice, Kahan says, because vegetables are typically lower in sugar and calories than fruits.
Juice cleanses probably won’t help you lose weight
“I have never in my career seen a reputable scientific study showing that juicing and cleansing has any effect on weight loss or other positive outcomes,” Kahan says. While a juice cleanse may help you drop pounds in the short-term, Kahan says there’s no data to suggest that they help burn fat or lead to sustained weight loss over time.
Weight loss aside, juice cleanses are often just plain unhealthy, Sass says. “I’m not a fan of juice fasts or cleanses because they tend to lack important nutrients, including fiber, protein and healthy fats.”
Juice may even make you gain weight
When your body gets a hit of sugar, it expects calories and substance to go along with it. When you drink a sugary juice without consuming any fiber to keep you satisfied, your body can get confused and hungry—potentially leading you to overeat later on. Kahan says studies have shown that consuming solid foods, as opposed to liquids, may offer more satiety, leading people to eat less afterward.
The bottom line
Juice may not be the health hero it’s made out to be. If you love it, though, it can be part of a balanced diet. Just keep portions moderate, incorporate plenty of low-sugar vegetables in your blend and have some fiber-rich foods in or with your beverage.
Perhaps most importantly, avoid the common trap of thinking of juice as a zero-calorie freebie, Kahan says. “People end up drinking as much of it as they would like and don’t realize how it can really add up in sugar and calories,” he says. “It’s a snack. It’s not free food.”