Juicing is considered so synonymous with healthy living that an image of a glass of juice could almost single-handedly symbolise the entire health-pursuing sentiment today. But… is juicing really healthy? Really really? Always? Some people will feel strongly about this topic, some so strongly that they even believe that drinking nothing but juice for days, even weeks at a time will make them healthier. And generally the more raw, green and foul-tasting the juice, the more healthy it is assumed to be. Now personally, although I spent many years making raw juices of all kinds, and also spent some time making and drinking raw green smoothies (those days are OVER!), I have always had some nagging concerns about certain juicing trends such as juice feasting and I often wondered whether all “juice use” is created equal.
I asked Matt Stone from 180DegreeHealth to answer a few questions I had about juicing, because I knew he’d have some interesting things to say. I love the way Matt looks at health and nutrition while avoiding loyalty to any particular diet, health guru or trend. His practical, personable and at times very funny book, Diet Recovery, has made my life considerably less stressful and more enjoyable, and has helped me kick a long-term habit of nutritional perfectionism. That’s saying a a lot, coming from an information-greedy perfectionist!
Knowing that Matt often looks at nutrition issues from an unusually unbiased perspective, I put the following juice-related questions to him. Of course, no one person has all the answers, and Matt would be one of the first people to encourage you to think for yourself and work out what kind of eating feels right to you – but you will surely find some food for thought (juice for thought?) in the following few Q&A.
Me: Fibre – juicing takes it out. Big deal? Yes or no?
Matt: Most proclaimed health experts will have a firm opinion on this. I do not. Dietary fiber is historically glorified because some African Natives studied by Denis Burkitt, Hugh Trowell, Kenneth Heaton, and Peter Cleave many decades ago were found to be in phenomenal health on extremely high fiber diets. Meanwhile, in neighboring areas where typical low-fiber Western diets were consumed, typical Western problems like tooth decay, diabetes, heart disease, and constipation were frequently observed.
Scientifically-speaking, I have generally advocated fiber consumption because it ferments into short chain saturated fatty acids (SCFA’s) in the gut, and those short chain fats have numerous well-known health benefits – benefits that more than adequately explain why a diet high in fiber would protect against a wide array of metabolic diseases.
But that is theory and that is general. In the real world with real people, fiber can be healthful or extremely problematic. My specialty is working with people to rehabilitate low metabolic rates, and lots of fiber going into the digestive tract of someone with a low metabolism can cause big trouble in little China – fueling bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine (a feature of irritable bowel syndrome, psychological disturbances, and others), and decreasing appetite and overall calorie absorption just to name a couple biggies.
So while it’s “healthy” to eat a high-fiber diet, and avoid stripping all the fiber out of your food via juicing, individual circumstances require greater customization. With sick people, I typically find myself recommending low fiber diets, with concentrated sources of calories and nutrition – including juices, fresh and otherwise.
Me: All that extra water – if people REALLY wanted to drink raw juice, should they drink less plain water to make up for the extra water intake?
Matt: I don’t drink much plain water at all, and generally discourage drinking plain water except with food (when it’s packaged with carbohydrates and electrolyte minerals). Although it’s a long story and deep rabbit hole, the quick and dirty is that water is very unlike our extracellular fluids, which are rich in all kinds of minerals and sugars, most notably sodium and glucose. Our body fluids are a lot more like milk or juice than they are water. Any time you take in fluids with a concentration that is weaker than the fluids in your body, you are going to dilute the concentration of those fluids. That can be a good thing, or a bad thing. In my experience, most people with chronic illnesses have body fluids that are depleted of sodium and glucose, and further depletion can really wipe them out and make them feel miserable. So yes, plain water consumption is certainly something you would reduce when you increase your intake of other fluids like juice, milk, even broth. Juice is a water substitute, and is probably superior to water because of all the essentials it contains other than the water.
Your urine is the best indicator of how many fluids you should take in. Never pee clear! That is a strange modern fad that physiology and even veterinary medicine both strongly refute. If your pets pee clear take them to the vet immediately! Overdrinking is literally the most frequent mistake I see health conscious people make. Juice is only healthy if you drink the right amount of it. Drink enough to trigger frequent, clear urination (an easy thing to do if someone has convinced you it will fix all that ails ya) and you will do great harm to yourself.
Me: Is the whole thing worth the bother at all? The juicing people say yes for health. But what if someone just wants to have an average diet?
Matt: It depends. I really, really like juice. I think it tastes great. It is nutritious. It can make up for a lot of the nutritional debts we incur eating modern foods. And there probably are a few benefits in consuming it fresh and raw vs. pasteurized, old, and bottled. So it is probably worth the effort. But most people I come across that are fanatical about their health enough to juice a bunch of fruits and vegetables do so many crazy other things, and go to such extremes, that any health benefits one might gain are lost. Juicing should be a small, and well-dosed supplement to an otherwise solid health regime.
Me: Some raw juice tastes nice and some tastes foul. (I gravitate towards nice tasting things – who doesn’t?) What are the best things to juice?
Matt: Our society still seems to be dictated primarily by the idea of self-sacrifice for personal gain. You often see people gravitate towards drinking a lot of nasty stuff like kale juice, spinach juice, wheatgrass, and other disgusting crap. There’s a lot more in plants than vitamins and minerals. Some minerals, like iron, are thought to be quite harmful in excess – and greens are notorious for being really high in iron. Kale and other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and bok choy are full of goitrogens that do serious metabolic damage. Spinach is full of oxalic acid that gives people trouble as well. People drink a ton of stuff like carrot juice too, overdosing on beta carotene which is also anti-metabolic in excess. Our natural taste receptors steer us away from these types of things to protect us, not to sabotage us.
I recommend juicing a few vegetables like celery, carrots, beets, lettuces, and cucumbers. But primarily I lean towards juicing things like fresh apples, pineapple, oranges, grapefruits, grapes, melons, and other nice things. Excess sweetness can be a problem for some, I agree. I do tend to dilute my sweet juices by at least half with water, and add at least a few grams of salt per liter/quart. This approximates the best-performing rehydration formulas, which typically have about 15 grams of carbohydrates per liter and 3 grams of various salts. Real juice has a much better spectrum of minerals, including magnesium and other vital elements lost in sweat, and vitamins, phytonutrients, and other beneficial things.
Me: What does juicing do to the metabolism?
Matt: It depends of course on what type of juices we are talking about here, the quantities consumed, and the person consuming them. If your metabolism is really low, for example, your threshold for fluids of any kind is extremely small at first. Juices, especially low-calorie vegetable juices, are highly counterproductive and will typically make a person with a low metabolism extremely cold, crashing out their mood and energy levels very hard to boot.
On the other hand, drinking very sweet and salty juice in small quantities (just a few sips every 30-60 minutes) and frequently throughout the day can be a tremendous metabolism-booster, suppressing the production of glucocorticoids.
Of course, as mentioned, if you drink a bunch of raw kale and cabbage juice, you might as well be on Weight Watchers. You’re committing thyroid suicide.
Me: Juice feasting is the practice of detoxing by consuming nothing but juice for one to X number of days. Detox is a fair enough concept. Many women like to do this before they become pregnant, for instance. Can it damage metabolism to juice feast?
Matt: Juice feasting is a horrible idea, triggering a massive cascade of stress hormones, obliterating your metabolism, and probably doing very little in terms of “detoxing” your body. It’s more likely to get rid of your sex drive, mood stability, muscle mass, bone density, and your hair than it is heavy metals or something along those lines. I used to advocate the practice, and practices similar to it because of my infatuation with how I felt immediately after my first few juice feasts. But how we feel can often lead us astray, as extreme stress is quite invigorating – even euphoric (see Methamphetamine!). What people naively believe are “success stories” will continue to circulate about such practices, and there may very well be a time and place and ailment in which juice fasting is appropriate. But a typical person’s odds of gaining some real, permanent benefit from extreme measures like this are extremely small. The word “risky” is not a strong enough word to describe fasting of any kind. I know plenty of people that are still trying, after years of effort, to get back to the level of health they had before doing a fast.
Me: Thanks heaps Matt, for spending the time with us to share your insights on juice and metabolism, juicing and health in general. You’ve brought up some excellent points and a your signature mix of common sense and radical ideas! For those of you who haven’t encountered Matt Stone’s work before, I encourage you to check out his stuff here at 180 Degree Health if you are after some practical and unbiased advice to help you in your journey for good nutrition and health.