The juice and smoothie industry has taken the United States by storm. According to market research, juice and smoothie bars bring in a total of $2 billion annually. But whether you’re forking over a healthy amount of cash in a trendy juice bar or making your fruity beverages at home, it’s important to understand the health benefits and implications of what you’re drinking.
Fruits and vegetables are good for you — no one would argue with that. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that we eat 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day. When consumed at these levels, fresh produce may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, while also helping to manage your weight.
But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans just aren’t getting enough of either. That’s part of the draw of juicing and blending: Both make it easier to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet.
The difference between juicing and blending is what’s left out of the process.
With juicing, you’re essentially removing all fibrous materials, leaving only the liquid of the fruits and vegetables. With blending, you get it all — the pulp and fiber that bulks up the produce. This is where we begin to separate the benefits of the two options.
- more concentrated amounts of vitamins and nutrients
- easier absorption of nutrients
- some juices contain more sugar than sodas
- lack of fiber, which is essential for healthy digestion, controlling blood sugar, and lowering risk of heart disease
- blended fruits and vegetables retain all their fiber for healthy digestion
- the fibrous parts of fruits and vegetables fill you up and also contain antioxidants
When you juice your fruits and vegetables, you may get more concentrated, more easily-absorbed nutrients. This is because the bulk of the vitamins and minerals found within a fruit are typically in the juice — not the pulp and fibrous material that you’d also get in a smoothie. But that isn’t the whole story.
Soluble fiber, like that found in apples, carrots, peas, green beans, and citrus fruits, dissolves in water and slows down digestion, which helps manage your blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber, which is in vegetables like cauliflower, potatoes, and dark leafy vegetables, adds bulk to your stool and stimulates your intestines into action.
Fiber isn’t the only thing present in fruit and vegetable pulp. A 2012 study compared the presence of phytochemicals — antioxidant compounds with potential anti-cancer properties — in grapefruit juice versus blended grapefruits. The researchers found that the blended fruit had a higher concentration of the beneficial compound because that compound is primarily found in the fibrous membranes of the fruit.
Advocates of juicing suggest that eating fruits and vegetables without the fiber gives your body a break from the hard work of digestion. They also suggest it enhances the absorption of nutrients.
One analysis confirmed that beta-carotene, a beneficial carotenoid, obtained from juiced produce rather than whole food forms, resulted in higher blood levels of beta-carotene. Many studies find that higher levels of plasma or blood levels of beta-carotene predict lower cancer risk. The researchers stated that soluble fiber reduces beta-carotene absorption by 30 to 50 percent.
However, they also pointed out that blending is beneficial, too. While the fiber remains present in blending, the cell walls of the foods are broken down. This allows for improved absorption of beta-carotene.
In some diseases and malabsorptive conditions, low-fiber and low-residue diets are recommended. In these cases, juicing would be appropriate.
While research is limited, there’s anecdotal evidence from people who have completed juice fasts and cleanses, and reported a variety of health benefits. That said, fiber is often under-consumed, causing harmful health effects. Therefore, consuming blended foods more often than juiced foods may provide the benefits of both whole foods and juiced foods.
Sugar consumption is a major downside of both juicing and blending, says dietitian Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, LDN. Gomer says both juices and smoothies can raise blood sugar — but the effects are more rapid and dramatic with juice.
With blended fruits and veggies, there are only so many you can drink before you start to feel full. The pulp, skin, and fiber helps increases the volume of the drink, which fills you up and limits your total calorie consumption. But with juice, you can consume the same amount of fruits and vegetables and still not feel satisfied.
Some commercial fresh juices contain as much, or even more, sugar than sodas. Research published in 2014 found that on average, fruit juices contain 45.5 grams of fructose per liter, not far off from the average of 50 grams per liter in sodas.
Minute Maid apple juice was found to contain 66 grams of fructose per liter, higher than both Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper! Although smoothies may have less, sugar should be a concern regardless.
Juicing has a variety of benefits, including greater concentration of nutrients per ounce, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, and enhanced absorption of nutrients. It may also help people who have difficulty eating their vegetables to stomach the taste.
On the other hand, with juicing you’re missing out on important fiber. You could also be missing out on other important compounds present in the pulp and membranes of the produce.
With blending, you’re getting everything the fruit and vegetables have to offer, but the pulpy texture may be unappetizing to some.
In both cases, there is a caveat to all of the benefits: sugar. Because of sugar, Gomer urges caution, particularly if weight loss is your goal.
Some experts believe you could minimize the rise in blood sugar from liquid calories by adding sources of fiber, protein, or fat, such as avocado, chia seeds, protein powders, or unsweetened Greek yogurt. But others disagree.
“We do not recommend any liquid calories,” says Gomer. “For weight loss, always eat the fruits and veggies — don’t drink them. If weight loss isn’t an issue, then the smoothie would win the prize over the juicing.”