Full disclosure: I don't really get juicing. Don't get me wrong, I've slurped down some delicious veggie and ginger concoctions and done my fair share of shots of lemon and turmeric. But spending 10 bucks on—or trying to replace breakfast with—a beverage that essentially amounts to cold, sugary soup has just never sounded appealing.
Still, there's no accounting for taste, and I don't begrudge folks who enjoy sipping on cold carrot water. But don't pretend that juicing is good for you.
Researchers have tackled the pervasive myths of juice-related health benefits in a study published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. In an attempt to cut through confusion surrounding research on nutrition, the study authors reviewed existing reports on various fad diets looking for any sign of actual benefit. Many of these popular dietary choices are supported by the "evidence" of a single study or two, meaning the results haven't been replicated by enough scientists to be taken as truth. Others are based on industry-funded studies that are likely biased, or are based on research that relied on self-reported surveys, where folks are known to lie about—or simply misremember—their eating habits.
Unsurprisingly, the cardiologists focused on the effects of fad diets on heart health. But let's be real: if your diet is bad for your heart, can you even pretend it's "healthy"? Nah.
Juicing was called out for its tendency to sneak extra sugar—and calories—into your diet. When you juice a fruit, you remove the healthful fiber contained therein. You're basically just drinking sugar water with some vitamins in it. You'd be better off eating a few carrots and apples than drinking a whole grocery cart worth of fruits and veggies in one sitting.
"There are things that you’re going to have in the whole fruit that you can’t get into the juice," Keith Ayoob of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who wasn't involved in the new study, told ABC. "Also the other side is to remember that your gut is a great juicer, it just works more slowly. Let your teeth and digestive tract do what it’s supposed to do. And the fiber in fruits and vegetables is critical to a healthy diet."
And that leads us to another important point: detoxing. If you're drinking fruit juice instead of eating real food, you might roll your eyes at a doctor's warning about sugar and calories—after all, you're going to consume fewer calories overall if you drink 50 carrots a day than if you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But your body is perfectly capable of filtering out "toxins" without a juice cleanse, and juicing in this manner might actually make your body filter out the bad stuff more slowly. Meanwhile, all those sugar spikes will do a real number on you, and could actually make it harder for you to lose weight in the long run.
Lest you think the researchers just have it in for kale juice, the study's disclosure of conflicts of interest actually reveal that one of the authors serves as a scientific advisor for Pressed Juicery. Dr. Miller is clearly not shilling for Big Juice. Dr. Miller is gonna tell it like it is.
But juicing wasn't the only dietary fad to attract the researchers' ire:
Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Freeman et. al
The study also takes a stab at coconut oil, a much-lauded "healthy" fat. The oil has more saturated fat than even butter or lard, but its popularity has surged in recent years due to many reports of health benefits.
But "current claims of documented health benefits of the tropical oils are unsubstantiated," according to the new study, "and use of these oils should be discouraged."
And then there's gluten. Hoo boy, gluten. The study authors conclude that—unless you have a wheat allergy, celiac disease, or are one of the six percent of the population that has some other type of sensitivity to this wheat protein—there's no sound evidence that cutting gluten out of your diet has any health benefit. But unlike the whole juicing thing, there's no harm in avoiding gluten if you really want to—as long as you're not filling up the resulting gaps in your daily food intake with foods high in calories or cholesterol.
The bottom line? Any diet that has you swapping food for sugar water is probably misguided. And while your daily dietary needs may very, you probably already know what a heart-healthy diet looks like: leafy greens, fresh fruits, and taking it easy when it comes to calories.
All in all, the analysis is a good reminder of just how confusing it can be to navigate the landscape of nutritional research. Just remember: a single study doesn't mean anything. Scientists need to reproduce the same results over and over again, in different circumstances and settings, to determine how likely something is to hold true. So stop worrying about new research praising the health benefits of wine or demonizing your favorite wheat product. Instead, stick to the things you know are healthy—and enjoy the rest in moderation.
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