Putting the Squeeze on Good Health
Fruit and vegetable juices aren’t new to the American diet. From hospital cafeterias to fast-food outlets to our own kitchens, breakfast isn’t breakfast without orange juice. Juices now come in special packages designed for toddlers’ tiny hands, and health-conscious adults swill the stuff all day long as a tasty alternative to soda.
But as more and more people are discovering, fruit and vegetable juices aren’t just delicious. Alternative practitioners say these tasty nectars are natural tonics that bolster the immune system and encourage the elimination of toxins. Fresh juices are also believed to be a potent weapon against disease; studies show that juices can speed the healing of infections and can even help cure stomach ulcers. And when used in conjunction with other natural techniques, such as herbs, homeopathy and nutritional therapy, fresh juices can create an optimal nutritional foundation to bolster the body’s innate healing abilities.
While health-conscious Americans caught the juicing bug in the 1970s, juicing wasn’t born yesterday. Juice therapy has long been a component of the 5,000-year-old tradition of Ayurveda, says John Peterson, M.D., an Ayurvedic practitioner in Muncie, Indiana.
In Ayurveda, a traditional system of medicine that originated in India, specific juices are used to fortify each body tissue, or dhatues. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that stress, emotional imbalance and poor digestion can block the body’s normal absorption of nutrients, resulting in undernourishment and illness. By prescribing specific juices to strengthen the weak tissue, Dr. Peterson says he has had excellent results with conditions as varied as anemia, constipation and arthritis.
Juices are also used therapeutically by naturopathic physicians, who treat patients with some combination of natural healing methods such as homeopathy, herbs, vitamins, nutritional counseling and acupuncture. At the Northwest Naturopathic Clinic in Portland, Oregon, Steven Bailey, N.D., a naturopathic physician, uses a supervised juice fast with many patients, including those suffering from arthritis, cancer and AIDS. During the fast, Dr. Bailey’s patients abstain from solid foods for several days, drawing their nourishment from large doses of fresh vegetable and fruit juices.
“Juice fasting enhances the body’s natural healing capacity,” explains Dr. Bailey. “Juices provide optimal nutrition yet take very little energy to digest. And because you’re not spending six hours trying to digest a fatty, high-protein meal, the body has more energy to devote to repairing itself.”
The juice fast also helps identify food sensitivities, a major factor in immune system disorders such as arthritis, asthma and chronic fatigue syndrome, according to Dr. Bailey. By gradually re-introducing foods after the fast, many patients discover that their symptoms worsen when they eat certain foods. “Most of my patients don’t realize they have food sensitivities until they start a juice fast, see an improvement in their symptoms and then get sick all over again once they go back to eating foods as common as corn, wheat and tomatoes,” he says.
“Removing the allergen from the diet lifts a tremendous burden from the immune system, so it can fight disease more effectively.”
While many have benefited from juice fasting, it isn’t for everybody. A hidden medical condition such as diabetes or hypoglycemia can make fasting dangerous without careful medical supervision, so be sure to get a professional’s advice before starting a fast.
For those whose active lifestyles make fasting impractical, a cleansing diet offers many of the same benefits as a juice fast, says naturopathic physician Robert Broadwell, N.D., director of the Institute for Alternative Medicine in Fountain Valley, California. For two to three days, Dr. Broadwell’s patients stick to a diet of raw fruits and vegetables supplemented by plenty of fresh juices; diluted beet juice is particularly effective at stimulating the liver, says Dr. Broadwell. “This allows the body to eliminate stored toxins caused by a poor diet and sometimes by prolonged use of antibiotics.”
A raw-foods diet featuring plenty of fresh juices is safe for virtually everyone, says Dr. Broadwell. He finds the cleansing diet especially helpful in treating chronic degenerative conditions such as heart disease and arthritis.
Drink Your Vegetables
Juices aren’t used just to treat illness; they’re also a safe, inexpensive form of preventive medicine. Studies show that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables decreases our risk of developing a number of chronic degenerative diseases, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. But even with organizations such as the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, and the American Cancer Society urging us to eat more fruits and vegetables, many people still aren’t getting the message. One study found that fewer than 10 percent of Americans eat the recommended two fruits and three vegetables a day.
A few glasses of fresh juice each day is a great way to increase the nutrient density of our diets, says Cherie Calbom, M.S., a certified nutritionist in Kirkland, Washington, and co-author of Juicing for Life. “There aren’t too many people who manage to eat a pound of raw carrots a day. But anyone can squeeze in an eight-ounce glass of juice.”
That eight-ounce glass of carrot juice packs a nutritional wallop of important vitamins, with more than ten times the Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamin A and as much vitamin C as two bananas.
What juices can’t provide, though, is fiber—at least not the 20 to 35 grams that adults need each day. Our eight-ounce glass of carrot juice contains a meager 2 grams of fiber, compared with the 14 grams in the pound of carrots that it takes to make a cup of juice. Fiber is essential for healthy digestion and may even help prevent certain types of cancer. “Drinking juice isn’t a substitute for eating high-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” stresses Calbom.
“I encourage people to think of juices as a supplement to a healthy diet,” she says. “If we followed a perfect diet, we’d be eating raw vegetables and drinking them. But considering that most Americans do neither, adding a few glasses of fresh juice each day can do a lot to improve the average person’s diet.”
Fresh juices have more going for them than vitamins and minerals. A growing body of scientific research suggests that when it comes to the health benefits of fresh produce, vitamins and minerals may be just the tip of the iceberg.
“Fruits and vegetables have therapeutic properties that science is only beginning to understand,” says Stephen Blauer, former director of the Hippocrates Health Institute, a naturopathic clinic in Boston, and author of The Juicing Book. “We know a lot about vitamins and minerals, but there are many other substances in fruits and vegetables that haven’t been as well-studied.”
Known collectively as the anutrients, these substances include pigments, which give plants their color, and enzymes, substances produced in the plant that help humans digest it.
Probably the best-known pigments are the carotenes, which are responsible for the vivid color of vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and squash. Though scientists have identified more than 400 different carotenes, the one most people have heard about is beta-carotene, a nutritional heavy hitter that the body easily converts to vitamin A. Studies indicate that beta-carotene has potent anti-cancer properties and may actually reverse precancerous conditions such as oral leukoplakia, a pattern of abnormal cell growth that often leads to mouth cancer in people who chew tobacco. Additional studies indicate that other members of the carotene family may have similar cancer-fighting potential.
A second group of pigments with potential healing power is the flavonoids, found in vegetables, fruits and beverages such as tea. Flavonoids give fruits and flowers their vibrant hues. While American scientists have yet to study the flavonoids in detail, European researchers have begun to investigate the health benefits of these pigments. A five-year Dutch study of 805 elderly men found that those who regularly consumed fruits and vegetables high in flavonoids were less likely to die of heart disease than those whose intakes were lower, regardless of their intakes of other nutrients.
Raw fruits and vegetables are also rich in enzymes, substances produced in plant tissue that kick off the many chemical reactions necessary for human digestion. “Natural foods come ‘packaged’ with just the right enzymes to help us digest them,” says Blauer. “But when you destroy those enzymes, as in the case of highly refined and processed foods, the body has to manufacture its own and ends up working very hard to break down foods. This isn’t the way human digestion was designed to work.”
Why Fresh Is Best
It’s important to note that when these experts recommend juices, they’re not talking about the prepackaged juices sold in supermarkets. “Processed juices bear very little resemblance to fresh juice, either nutritionally or aesthetically,” says Blauer.
While fresh juices and prepackaged ones may start out equal, all store-bought juices are pasteurized, a process that involves heating the juice at very high temperatures to maximize shelf life. While pasteurization is necessary to prevent spoiling, it destroys many of the juice’s fragile vitamins and enzymes, according to Blauer. While store-bought juices are better for you than cola, coffee or alcohol, they aren’t considered to have much therapeutic value.
To reap the health benefits of juicing, you’ll need to buy a home juicer, sold in most department and health food stores at prices ranging from $25 to $2,000. While this involves some initial expense, the growing popularity of juicing has brought a number of new manufacturers into the market, and prices are more competitive than ever. “A juicer is one of the best investments you can possibly make in your health,” says Calbom. (To find out what to look for when buying a juicer, see “Choose Your Weapon.”)
Picking Your Produce
Juice is only as healthful as the fruits and vegetables that go into it, so choosing the best-quality produce is very important. Most experts are big fans of organic produce, fruits and vegetables grown without the pesticides used in almost all mainstream agriculture. “We know so little about the long-term effects of pesticides,” notes Calbom. “For me, that’s reason enough to avoid them.” Buying organic also gives you more valuable nutrients for your money, says Dr. Bailey, since organic farmers generally take pains to protect the mineral content of their soil.
If you juice daily and find organic produce prohibitively expensive, you can still reduce your exposure to pesticides by choosing organic versions of just the fruits and vegetables you use most often and scrubbing supermarket produce to remove pesticide residues. Avoid imported produce when possible, though, since many pesticides that have been banned in the United States are still legal in other countries. If you must use imported produce, be sure to peel it before juicing.
Whenever possible, buy locally grown fruits and vegetables; they’re usually both cheaper and fresher than those shipped in from other parts of the country. For variety, explore local farmers markets and roadside stands, and be on the lookout for pick-your-own farms, where you can roll up your sleeves and select your own peaches, peas, apples or strawberries.
For maximum benefit, drink your juice immediately after you make it; within a half-hour is best. Juices stored in the refrigerator lose their nutritional value rather quickly. As soon as a fruit or vegetable is processed in your juicer, the natural enzymes in the juice begin to break down the other nutrients. Because vegetables contain more enzymes than fruits, their nutrients are depleted faster. “Once vegetable juices start to thicken, all that’s left are water, minerals and calories,” says Dr. Bailey.
From the Rodale book, New Choices in Natural Healing