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. As a matter of fact, official guidelines suggest that we eat 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit, and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables every day. When consumed at these levels, fresh produce may be able to 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. Here’s part of the draw of juicing and blending: Both make it easier to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet.
What’s the Difference Between Juicing and Blending?
The difference between juicing and blending is what’s left out of the process.
With juicing, you are essentially removing all fibrous materials, leaving only the liquid of the fruit and/or 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.
When you juice your fruits and vegetables, you may get more concentrated 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.
Juices contain little to no fiber. Fiber is incredibly important for proper digestion and good health. 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.
Ease of Digestion
Proponents of juicing will tell you that giving your body a break from the hard work of digestion is one of the benefits of going without the fiber. Unfortunately, there is no hard science to confirm this stance, merely anecdotal evidence from people who have completed juice fasts and cleanses and reaped benefits they connected to their newfound diet approach.
Sugar consumption is a major downside of both juicing and blending, says dietitian Kimberly Gomer, M.S., R.D., 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 — because the pulp, skin, and fiber helps increases the volume of the drink which fills you up and therefore 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. And Minute Maid apple juice was found to contain 66 grams of fructose per liter, higher than both Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper! And though smoothies may have less, sugar should be a concern regardless.
When it comes to juicing, there are benefits. These include: getting a greater concentration of nutrients per ounce, increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption, and possibly making it easier for people who have a hard time eating their vegetables to stomach the taste when diluted with fruit.
But, on the other hand, you’re missing out on important fiber, and you could 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 harder to handle.
In both cases, there is a caveat to all of the benefits, and it’s sugar. And because of sugar, Gomer urges caution — particularly if weight loss is your goal.
“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.”