Depending on your perspective, juice can be a nutritional bonanza or a sugar-laden menace -- or something in between. These days, though, the popularity of juicing has shifted the balance toward the healthy side.
But juices, even homemade ones, can still pack a punch in terms of calories and sugar. What to do? Blend, squeeze and cold-press carefully, nutritionists advise, with an eye on combinations that will taste good and boost your health.
Here's what you should know about juicing.
1. Whole fruits and veggies still top juices
"All fruits and vegetables are best eaten whole because whole fruits and vegetables contain all of the beneficial nutrients of juiced produce and then some," said Leah Holbrook, registered dietitian and clinical instructor of family medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine.
Juicing reduces the fiber in juice, which translates to more hunger after a meal, she said.
"Compared to eating 100 calories from produce at a meal or snack and feeling full, drinking 100 calories of the juice may not produce the same fullness, which can lead to higher calories overall, and weight gain," Holbrook said. "Furthermore, for some individuals who may need to be more mindful of their sugar or carbohydrate intake, a higher-sugar juice devoid of any protein or healthy fat would not be a healthful choice."
So why bother with juice in the first place? The simple answer, said Kathy Hill, chief dietitian at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, is because it can be tasty and convenient, even if "there is no scientific evidence that proves juicing fruits and vegetables is significantly healthier than eating them." Plus, "if you typically don't like fruits and vegetables, juicing can be a way to 'squeeze' them into your diet," she said.
2. Produce that's good for juicing
"Hard fruits and vegetables like apples, pears, beets and carrots work well in the juicer," said Arlene Stein, a registered dietitian with Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola. "Firm, hearty, leafy greens like kale and collard greens also make good juice."
Hill added other kinds of produce to the list of those that can be juiced: celery, cucumbers, peppers, pineapple, tomatoes, broccoli and spinach.
What about smoothies? They typically combine fruits like strawberries and bananas in a blender, but exclude veggies. Juicing extracts the juice from a wide range of produce. Holbrook said. "And you can add a protein if you desire -- like milk, milk substitute or yogurt -- to provide a nice balance of protein to carbohydrate."
3. Keep fruit juices on watch list
"Juices made from mostly fruit are high in calories, about 120 calories per 8-ounce cup, and should be limited to one cup, at most, daily," Stein said. "Vegetable juices are lower in calories, with as low as 45 calories per 8 ounces. Vegetable juice you make yourself would have much less salt than the cans of V8 in the supermarket."
As for store-bought juices, nutritionists caution that they can be full of sugar, even in their natural form. "Don't be fooled when a bottle of fruit juice states 'No Added Sugar,'" Hill said. "Pure cranberry juice is the exception, since it is very tart. This is why most cranberry juice sold in the grocery store is 'cranberry juice cocktail' or 'light' or 'diet' cranberry juice, since they add sugars or sugar substitutes to this juice."
4. Drink it when it's fresh
"To maximize the nutrition you will get by juicing, keep in mind it's best to get freshly pressed juices," said Marlo Mittler, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park. "A good juice lasts about six hours without breaking down and losing its high nutrient content."
Mittler said that, to get the most out of the juices, it's best to drink them on an empty stomach. "This will allow your body to absorb the maximum amount of vitamins and minerals and live enzymes," she said. "It will also give you a short burst of energy."
It's also important to drink fresh juices quickly to reduce bacteria, said Cathleen Davis, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with the Center for Pediatric Specialty Care in Babylon. "The fruits and veggies also must be cleaned thoroughly and the juice machine cleaned properly between uses," she said.
5. Different juices need different juicers
"Juicers appear to come in two categories -- those for making fresh fruit juice, often called citrus juicers, and those that are for the purposes of juicing fruit or vegetables, often called juice extractors," Holbrook said. "The blender, which is already in many households, can also be used to create a nutritious drink, more along the lines of a smoothie. Smoothies bring to mind something with a dairy base -- yogurt or milk usually. However, a blender can be used to make dairy-less smoothies simply by adding a liquid to help puree the produce. Water or ice is usually adequate."