Can Juice Really Make You Healthier?

On most days, you do everything you can to work more fruits and vegetables into your diet: You add berries to your oatmeal, pile spinach on your pizza, and swap out your fries for a side salad. While you should be congratulated for your efforts, chances are you, like more than 70 percent of adults, aren't hitting the USDA target of nine servings of produce (that's four halfcup servings of fruit and five half–cup servings of vegetables) daily. That's where juice comes in. "It can be overwhelming for busy women to try to get the fruits and vegetables they need," says Kathy McManus, R.D., director of the department of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Drinking 12 ounces a day can be a convenient way to get two servings closer to your produce goal."

Juice also can boost your health, as the nutrients normally found in these beverages have been credited with everything from warding off cancer to preventing age–related ailments. A recent study published in The American Journal of Medicine concluded that people who drank three–plus servings per week of juices high in polyphenols– antioxidants found in purple grape, grapefruit, cranberry, and apple juice– had a 76 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Plus, some store–bought juices are actually higher in certain nutrients than the fruits and vegetables they came from (see the boxes in this story for specifics).

The key, according to McManus, is to make juice a supplement to rather than a substitute for all of the fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. Though these beverages are generally higher in sugar and calories and lower in fiber than their whole counterparts, research shows that a combination of the two may be the most beneficial to your overall health. The Harvard–based Nurses' Health Study found that adults who had the highest intake of produce in both solid and liquid form– about eight servings per day– were 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who got 1.5 or fewer servings daily. Plus, their overall risk for any type of chronic disease was 12 percent lower than the fruit and veggie skimpers'. To squeeze more nutrients out of every single sip, follow this expert advice.

Mix It Up A glass of OJ may deliver all the vitamin C you need in a day, but make room in your fridge for a new variety or an exotic blend and you'll get an even healthier payoff. That's because drinking a range of juices helps you maximize the kinds of vitamins and minerals you're getting. "Individual fruits and vegetables can offer some measure of protection against illness and chronic disease," says Janet Novotny, Ph.D., a research physiologist at the USDA's Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland. "But to get the greatest preventative benefits, you should diversify the type and color of produce you're taking in." In a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, women who ate from the widest array of botanical groups (18 plant families versus 5) experienced the most protection against oxidative damage, or the breakdown of cells and tissues.

Switch from white grapefruit juice to a ruby red version (the darker fruit may be more effective at cutting cholesterol), or try a blend with açai, an antioxidant–rich Brazilian berry. Learn the Lingo Some store bought juice "drinks," also called "cocktails" or "punches," contain as little as five percent juice. What you will find: water, lots of sugar, and artificial flavoring. Check the label to see what you're getting. "Your beverage should be 100 percent fruit juice, made without added sugar or high–fructose corn syrup," says Felicia Stoler, R.D., a Holmdel, New Jersey, nutritionist. "But extra vitamins, minerals, and fiber can be a healthy bonus."

Stick to a Two-Drink maximum While the disease–fighting potential of juice may be considerable, it shouldn't be an invitation to keep refilling your glass. "Most fruit juices are not only higher in calories and natural sugars– up to 38 grams per 8–ounce glass–but also take less time to consume than the whole fruit," says Stoler. There's no peeling or slicing involved, and unlike whole foods, the energy in beverages won't do much to fill you up–which could spell weight gain if you're not careful. One study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that when people were given either the solid or liquid version of certain foods (watermelon versus watermelon juice, cheese versus milk, and coconut meat versus coconut milk), those who drank the liquids consumed up to 20 percent more calories throughout the rest of the day.

"Most juices are low in fiber, a nutrient that helps delay the emptying of your stomach," says Stoler. "And unlike whole fruits and vegetables, which take time to be broken down by the body, juice moves through your system almost as quickly as water." To make juice a waistline–friendly part of your diet, she recommends limiting your intake to no more than 200 calories per day. That's 16 ounces of most fruit varieties (like apple, orange, and grapefruit), about 8 to 12 ounces for more sugary juices (like grape and pomegranate), and 24 ounces of most vegetable juices.

Don't Bother with Juice Fasts You might have heard that this extreme diet– consuming nothing but juice for days or weeks on end–can help you slim down or "cleanse" your body of harmful toxins, but McManus warns not to buy into the hype. "There's simply no scientific evidence to prove that subsisting on juice helps expel waste products from your system," she says. "You'll just be denying your body essential nutrients from the foods that you're not eating, like lean proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains."

Because you're getting so few calories (often less than 1,000 per day), you may feel sluggish, dizzy, or irritable– not to mention hungry. Some people even report bad breath, breakouts, and sinus congestion. Even if you can put up with all that, you probably won't experience lasting weight loss. "You may drop a few pounds," adds McManus "But they'll return once you start eating real food again."

Get Fresh One of the most effective strategies to control calories, maximize variety, and increase the nutritional value in every glass is to create your own fresh blend at home. That's because you can handselect the kinds of fruits and veggies (which nearly always contain fewer calories) you're using. And if prep time has held you back from snacking on produce, juicing literally lets you cut corners: Most items can be popped whole in your juicer (rind, skins, and all) or cut into large pieces to fit the feeder tube.

While there are three types of juicers– masticating, triturating, and centrifugal– the latter is the easiest to use and the most affordable. Usually priced between $100 and $200, "the centrifugal type works by first grating or finely chopping the produce, then spinning it at a high rpm [revolutions per minute] to push the pulp against a straining screen," says Cherie Calbom, author of Juicing for Life. "When shopping around, look for a model with 600 to 1,000 watts of power and removable parts that can go in the dishwasher."

Need more guidance? After putting several popular extractors through their paces, these three earned the highest overall marks for speed, ease of use, and quick cleanup.

  • Best value: Juiceman Junior Model JM400 ($70; at Wal–Mart) Built to run at two speeds, this chrome–plated extractor is stylish enough to display on your countertop between uses.
  • Easiest cleanup: Breville Juice Fountain Compact ($100; brevilleusa .com) This streamlined model takes up less counter space than other juicers out there and was designed with removable, dishwasher–safe parts. Extras like a splash–proof lid and shock–resistant plug make this extractor as smart as it is compact.
  • Ideal for big families: Jack LaLanne Power Juicer Pro ($150; Thanks to its sample size and huge feed tube, you'll do very little chopping before adding fruits and vegetables to this stainless steel extractor. A straining element allows you to reserve the fiber-rich pulp to use in soups, salsas, muffins, and other recipes.

Experiment with a Lot of ingredients You can increase the variety of nutrients you're getting while cutting the total sugar content by tossing at least one vegetable into your blend. &quo;Red and yellow peppers are chock full of carotenoids, while cucumbers can add potassium," says Calbom. "And if you're feeling adventurous, feel free to toss in some spinach leaves or beet greens, which are both good sources of iron."

Pears, green apples, and berries all have high water content, so they sweeten the flavor of your drink without spiking the calorie content. Calbom recommends washing your fruits and vegetables before tossing them into the juicer to remove any dirt, mold, or surface pesticides.

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