With a juicery on every corner and a well-stocked beverage section at every health food store, it's super easy to just grab a nutrient-packed refreshment after a yoga class or if you skipped lunch. While a fruit-and-veggie-loaded drink sounds righteous in theory, are juices really healthy? Well, yes and no.
"Juices can be part of a healthy diet, but they are not a replacement for whole fruits and veggies, especially because you're not getting the fiber," explains Dana Angela White, RD, registered dietician and author of Healthy, Quick and Easy Juicing. "That being said, you're still getting the nutrients and the hydration—preferably by making your own juices or buying those with the simplest ingredients."
So what are the healthiest juices? We asked nutritionists how to determine if your beverage has the right benefits.
Look at the label.
Just because that drink says "healthy" on the label, doesn't mean it's actually good for you. Plus, many store-bought drinks contain ingredients that negate all that goodness you're hoping for. "Most juices you buy in the market need to be shelf stable, which means they often include added ingredients that are not exactly all-natural," says White. "As a general rule, if you can't pronounce it, investigate what it is."
The other thing to watch out for: added sugars. Many brands load on the sweetness to compensate for all the "greenness." Finally, pay attention to portions. White points out that while it may look like a small bottle, often there are two or more servings in there.
If you want to ensure your juice is clean and mean, opt for cold-pressed juices when you can. "Cold-pressed juices are often made in what is called a slow-masticating juicer that has low RPM's and does not produce heat, which helps the juice to retain its nutritional value," explains Megan Roosevelt, RDN, an LA-based registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The 5-Day Juicing Diet. "Still, making your own homemade juice is one of the best ways to keep your juice lower in sugar and be able to choose your own ingredients that best benefit your health needs." While some of those juicers are pricey, those $8 bottles at the juicery aren't exactly cheap either.
Pick powerful ingredients.
Not all of us are Instagram-worthy health food chefs, whipping up veggie-packed, spice-laden curries. Luckily, juices can become a vehicle for the nutritional powerhouses that are tough to incorporate in your diet. "Ingredients like turmeric fight inflammation. Ginger is an antioxidant that is beneficial for digestion. There are so many ways to mix up your juices and reap the benefits of these superfoods," says White.
While fruits are certainly full of good-for-you vitamins, aim to make your juices more veggie based. "You'll want to make sure they are low in sugar, with primarily veggies, and some fruits for natural sweetness," says Roosevelt. Veggies like beets and carrots are already on the sweet side. Fruits like pineapple and apples can cut the "green" flavor of your juices, while pomegranate is high in phytochemicals, making it a very powerful fruit source.
Stick with the season.
Whether we're talking juices, salads, or bowls, eating locally and seasonally is always the preferred way to go. "Your juices will taste far better and be more flavorful if your fruits and veggies are in season and at their peak," says White. "For example, citrus and pineapple are always great in the cooler months, while watermelon is delicious and refreshing in the summer." Check to see what's in season and then plan your juice menu accordingly.
We all know about the dark underbelly in the juicing world: those all-or-nothing detox diets where you drink nothing but juice for several days. Not only is this unhealthy, but you don't need them.
"Juices are not a meal replacement, nor are they a replacement for whole fruits and vegetables. It's a supplement, like a vitamin, [to what you're already eating]," explains White. Plus, actual fruits and veggies are already body detoxifiers in their natural fiber-full form, so skimming it down to a juice and drinking only that for days on end isn't only useless, it's torturous. Clean juices, with the right nutrient-dense ingredients can be a great addition to your diet, but they should never be the basis of it.