When Miami jewelry company owner John Irvin first started juicing two decades ago, it was a rare practice.
“I started in my 20s,” said Irvin, now 44. “I needed something to detoxify my body because I was going out and partying on weekends. This is Miami, after all. By Sunday, you feel so worn out.”
Irvin was first introduced to “smoothies” by a friend’s parents, then graduated to a Jack LaLanne Power Juicer. LaLanne was one of the first health and fitness proponents to tout juicing, and his juicer is still sold on the market. LaLanne, who died in 2011 at 96, credited his healthy diet, juicing and exercise to his longevity.
Irvin now uses the NutriBullet, whose pitch is that it keeps the pulp and fiber in the juice by liquefying the fruit and vegetables at a powerful speed. The older juicers eliminated the pulp, which nutritionists say holds much of the vitamins and fiber in fruits and vegetables.
Irvin credits his “excellent” health to juicing every morning. He prepares “the mother of all green drinks,” throwing kale, spinach, baby chard, celery, cucumber and fresh dill into his juicer. Most other juicers often add an apple or another piece of fruit for sweetness, but Irvin says he enjoys the taste of just vegetables.
“I love it,” Irvin said. “The food we eat in America is dead, it’s processed. This is about cleansing, about feeling vibrant, about energy and getting nutrients. It’s good for the eyes, good for the skin.”
Irvin is in good company these days. You can’t turn on the television without coming across an infomercial for a juicer. Nor can you drive without running into a juice bar of some sort.
Juicing is a multibillion-dollar business, with health-conscious Americans spending up to $500 on state-of-the-art juicers and $10 or more for a smoothie or fresh juice drink.
But just how healthy is juicing as a practice, particularly as a meal replacement?
Some dieticians and nutritionists have concerns about juicing.
For one, they are fearful that Americans are unaware of how many calories and how much sugar one juice can contain, when loaded up with apples and berries. They also worry that juicers are missing out on the natural fiber, vitamins and minerals if they use juicers that discard the pulp and fiber.
Additionally, nutritionists caution their clients to choose their juices with care, to make sure that prepared ones at juicing stands are pasteurized and that home-made ones are kept refrigerated to prevent harmful bacteria from forming.
Cathy Clark-Reyes, a registered dietician with Baptist Health Primary Care, advises clients to “juice with caution and juice in moderation.”
“It all depends on what kind of juicer they are using,” she said. “I actually prefer a blender, which keeps the pulp in.”
Or, Clark-Reyes recommends juicers take the discarded pulp or fiber and mash it up to make a fritter, use it in a frittata or add it to a soup. “It’s good not to waste all that pulp,” she said.
Clark-Reyes also prefers that her clients make smoothies that contain a protein base such as Greek yogurt or a whey protein powder rather than pure fruit or vegetable juices.
Additionally, Clark-Reyes advises diabetic or pre-diabetic clients to make their own juice rather than buying prepared juices, which can contain excessive amounts of sugar.
“That way it’s more vegetable-based,” she said. “And they can add just a little bit of fruit.”
However, Clark-Reyes sees some value in juicing, particularly as a way to introduce children to fruits and vegetables they might not ordinarily eat. But parents should not “disguise” the fact that fruits and vegetables are in the yummy drinks, she said, or the children will “go through life never knowing what broccoli or carrots are.”
“If the mom educates the kids, ‘there are broccolis and carrots in here,’ that’s good,” she said. “Kids shouldn’t go through life not knowing what vegetables are.”
“If you do it right, it’s a nice way to get some vegetables and fruit in your diet,” she added. “If someone is in a hurry and wants to throw a bunch of fruit in a juicer in the morning, that’s fine. But I don’t advise them to do it every day. I’m not sold, but I understand the convenience and practicality.”
For Aventura legal recruiter Abbe Bunt, juicing has been a way to lose weight. She started with a three-day juice “detox” in September. Since then, she makes a point of just drinking juice and liquids every Monday. She has lost 10 pounds.
Bunt does not make her own juices but orders them from a North Miami Beach company, HealthyLine, which delivers them fresh to her home at night.
“It’s like a one-day detox,” Bunt said. “This makes me feel lighter. It helps me feel better psychologically about anything I ate or drank over the weekend. I love the way the juice tastes, and I feel great.”
While Bunt has lost weight with her leafy green juices, others who use fruit-heavy juices can actually gain weight.
Lillian Craggs-Dino, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston, has seen clients make smoothies with five oranges that contain several hundred calories.
“They are randomly juicing every day, and they wonder why they’re gaining weight,” she said. “And it doesn’t really fill you up.”
Craggs-Dino advises clients to make their own juices, preferably with blenders, and to prepare a small amount, such as six ounces.
The Rev. Chris Jackson, minister of Unity on the Bay, did not start juicing to lose weight. He started juicing 10 years ago because he didn’t like vegetables but he knew they were important for his diet.
“For me, it’s the only way to get leafy green vegetables in my system,” said the 61-year-old divorcee. “I’m always trying to stay abreast of my health.”
Jackson started off with an inexpensive juicer and juicing with apples and cucumbers and beets. He took to the practice immediately.
“I love it,” he said. “You almost feel like you’re drinking life.”
But the juicer was labor intensive, and the fruits and vegetables had to be cut up, so Jackson only wound up juicing a couple times a week. Then he splurged on a juicer that cost $200, but that let him throw entire apples and other fruits and vegetables in it whole.
Since then, Jackson started juicing every day. He buys all-organic fruit and vegetables from Publix.
“The machine makes a big difference,” he said.
Jackson now uses the NutriBullet, which bills itself as “The World’s Most Powerful Nutrient Extractor” — a present from his son.
“I think this did a lot to build my immune system,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time I was out sick.”
John Irvin’s secret green juice recipe
1 cup fresh kale, baby spinach or Swiss chard
1 small cucumber, peeled
1 celery stalk
Juice from one-half lemon
1 cup water
Small chunk fresh ginger
1/4 cup fresh dill
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Blend in a blender or juicer.