In the 1960s, belt massagers jiggled away fat. The ‘70s introduced oddly specific diet plans like The Scarsdale and cookie diets. The ‘80s saw a surge in jazzercise aerobics classes, in the ‘90s we tried to eradicate carbs and the millennium popularized more natural weight-loss trends. But through all that, juicing — the practice of replacing meals with juice extracted from the plant tissues of uncooked fruits and vegetables — is one phenomenon whose popularity has endured since its inception in the 1960s.
This often-praised yet often-criticized method for weight management is a quick way to consume large quantities of vitamins, minerals and enzymes, and can help individuals jump-start their weight loss. Dr. Kenneth N. Woliner, who has been practicing a holistic-based approach to medicine out of his area practice, Holistic Family Medicine, since 2002, says it has merit.
“Compared to some of these other beverages, [raw juice is] a beverage that I think is pretty darn clean and so I have no problem with people juicing,” says Dr. Woliner, who is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine.
“Holistic medicine means soup to nuts, everything. Behavior changes, diet, exercise, supplements, prescriptions, surgery — whatever the person needs, they need. But you try treating upstream — you treat the cause of things.”
While Dr. Woliner has prescribed juicing as a part of a patient’s health regimen, he does admit it has its shortcomings.
“Many people are unable or unwilling to consume nine vegetables (and) fruits per day, so blended drinks are a good option for them. [With] juicing you get a lot of vitamins and phytochemicals pretty darn quickly [but] you don’t get fiber” – which is removed during the juicing process.
With juicing, as with most things, moderation is key.
“If I just did juicing for every single meal or snack for five days in a row, I’m going to lose weight, but for a couple of reasons,” Dr. Woliner says. “One, I might not get that many calories in compared to [my normal diet], but I will get sugar calories in and I’m not going to get much protein. When your body is not getting much protein in it perceives starvation and when it perceives starvation it starts slowing down its metabolism, which could actually cause people to become insulin resistant or pre-diabetic.”
A 16-ounce cup of juice can contain more than 40 grams of sugar.
“Because you’re getting all this sugar and you’re not getting enough protein along with it, you can cause people to develop a central hypothyroidism, a type of thyroid condition where your body says ‘There’s starvation, let me slow down my metabolism, that way I will survive the famine,’” Dr. Woliner says.
Additionally, some of the weight loss from juicing is actually a result of muscle loss because the body can’t preserve its muscle mass when it lacks protein.
Then there are the products you need. There are two main types of juicers, cold-pressed or masticating, and high-speed or centrifugal. Cold-pressed juicers knead the juice out of fruits and vegetables in a slow process that allows it to isolate most of the juice, while separating the skin, seeds and fiber-bearing pulp for disposal. Centrifugal juicers extract juice from the flesh of fruits and vegetables using a spinning metal blade. Not only does this process remove the fiber, it also creates heat, which breaks down some of raw juice’s benefits.
“If I had a choice, I’d go blending all the way,” Dr. Woliner says. “[With blending] you’re not just getting the vitamins and minerals and other stuff but you’re getting a lot of the fiber in the pulp and that will slow down the glycemic load of the food. So the sugar won’t come in really quickly and raise your blood sugar so quickly. [With blending] you’re getting a significant amount of vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals, a little bit less than juicing, but you’re getting more pulp and fiber and people do need pulp and fiber as part of their lifestyle.”
Some advocates of juicing claim certain mixes of fruits, vegetables and herbs can alleviate or even cure a multitude of medical conditions ranging from the common cold to heart disease. According to the American Cancer Society, “A diet high in vegetables and fruits has been shown to reduce cancer risk and to improve overall health. On the other hand, available scientific evidence does not support claims that the enzymes from raw foods have special, health-giving properties, since they are broken down during digestion anyway.”
[Juicing] might not posses miraculous healing qualities, but Dr. Woliner says it’s better than the status quo.
“Juicing is pretty darn good,” he says, “compared to eating the standard American diet for sure.”
Always consult with your doctor before starting a new diet.