My first job in the health and wellness industry was working at the juice bar of a vegetarian restaurant. This was about 8 years ago before I went to school to become a nutritionist. At that time I had a keen interest in health but was very new to the world of juicing. Although juicing was becoming more mainstream in places like Melbourne and LA, there were maybe three places in Toronto that were doing it well. Aside from needing a job, I got into juicing for very obvious reasons: it tastes good, it’s an easy way to get fruits and veggies in, and it was fun experimenting. Now, nearly a decade later I am almost embarrassed to admit that juicing has become a huge part of my life. My objective for this post is not to convince you to get really into juicing, but rather to help you understand how healing juice can be.
The practice of fasting has been around forever. We might be inclined to link it to spiritual or religious practices, but even therapeutic fasting has records dating back as far as the 5th century BCE. Hippocrates was a Greek physician who is often referred to as the father of medicine. The Hippocratic oath that doctors take derives its name from this physician. He believed “to eat when you are sick, is to feed your illness”. Hippocrates recommended abstinence of food and drink for patients that exhibited certain illnesses. Other ancient Greeks, like Plato and Aristotle, were also devoted to fasting. A fair amount of greek medicine came from observing nature, specifically animals. Animals will abstain from food when they are injured or ill, so it was believed that humans should do the same. This is probably a fairly familiar situation to many people. When you come down with a bad flu or cold, appetite is often diminished. We now have some evidence to suggest why this might occur.
For most people, fasting practices are hard to adopt because they require a level of calm that our busy lives don’t often allow for. This is in part why the diet trend known as “intermittent fasting” has become so popular in the last decade. It is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of fasting and eating. It claims to offer the same benefits as regular fasting while being way less restrictive. People who practice this diet often claim they experience more mental clarity, fewer food cravings, increased energy, and better regulation of emotions. A lot of these claims are backed up by science. Let’s take a look at how this form of diet works, and how juicing might offer similar benefits.
There is a process of the body known as “apoptosis”. This process is key to understanding why we might benefit from short periods of abstaining from solid food. Apoptosis is a healing process of the body. Our body generates billions of cells every day, and to maintain balance, or homeostasis, a roughly equal number of cells need to die. It is an essential process of growth and development, as well as healing. Let’s say a cell becomes damaged or infected with a pathogen. Our immune system can in a sense “target” that cell to be destroyed. The damaged cell will then be replaced with the production of a healthy cell. Apoptosis is something that is going on in our bodies constantly. Newer research has shown fasting helps to enhance apoptosis. It is essentially a way of supporting our natural healing processes. Unfortunately, there have been very few studies done specifically on juice fasting and its ability to increase apoptosis. However, the few studies that do exist all show very promising results.
Aside from the fasting aspect of juicing, there are several other important processes at play that can promote healing. Fruits and vegetables are crucial when it comes to the prevention of all illnesses and diseases. Unfortunately, a small minority of people consume the recommended amount of servings. A lot of people don’t eat vegetables simply because they don’t know how to cook with them. They can be much more time-consuming than other, more convenient whole foods, like grains. I think most people could agree that juicing is an easy way to get in your servings of fruits and vegetables. However, since juicing is a processing method, it is important to look at how this might change the nutrient make-up.
The most obvious change that occurs in the production of juice, is the removal of fiber. Depending on what juicing method you’re using, the amount of fiber will vary. For example, cold-pressed juice contains little to no fiber, while a more conventional juicer will allow much more fiber to pass through. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. It passes through the body helping to move food through our digestive tract. It is vital to maintaining good health, yet many people do not consume enough fiber. Skeptics of juicing have suggested that the lack of fiber in juice is a problem. As long as you are obtaining enough fiber in your diet, it doesn’t necessarily have to come from fruits and vegetables.
A lack of fiber can be immensely beneficial when it comes to absorbing nutrients. When digestion is not functioning well, we have a harder time absorbing nutrients from our food. Normally, nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine. The small intestine is lined with millions of finger-like projections called villi. Villi help to increase the surface area of the small intestine. This simply creates more space for nutrients to move through and greater nutrient absorption. Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong with this process. For example, individuals with celiac disease might experience a “flattening” of these villi. Once your villi are damaged, you cannot absorb nutrients properly, no matter how much you eat. Another example is excess inflammation in the gut, something that occurs with many inflammatory conditions such as IBS. Our gastrointestinal tract, or GI tract, is lined with a protective layer of mucus. This mucus allows for nutrients to pass through while preventing pathogens like bacteria from moving into our bloodstream. When this mucus becomes impaired, we absorb fewer nutrients. Since the juice is lacking fiber, little digestion has to take place. The nutrients in the juice are readily absorbed, unlike whole plants which require breaking down. I like to think of juice as a multivitamin for these reasons. I still make a point of eating lots of fresh fruit and veggies, but including juice into my diet daily provides a concentrated, easily absorbed source of vitamins and minerals.
When it comes to healing naturally, plants are our best friends. On average, one bottle of cold-pressed juice contains 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables. That is essentially an entire day’s worth of servings. A common critique of juice is that the processing destroys the nutrients that these plants offer. For this reason, it is important to be particular about what kind of juice you’re making and/or buying.
Nutrients can break down when exposed to light, water, air, and heat. This is where the type of processing becomes important. Conventional juicers, like a centrifuge juicer, consist of a spinning blade and a mesh net. The blade will crush up produce while the net catches the fiber, and allows for the juice to pass through. This process can cause a lot of friction and heat, leading to the degradation of nutrients. Cold-pressed methods involve a 2-step process. The first step is pressing the produce into a pulp. Extreme force is then exerted on the pulp, squeezing all the juice out. Both steps produce no heat or friction and help to prevent the degradation of nutrients. Nutrient make-up can also be affected by pasteurization. Pasteurization is a preservation technique that creates a longer shelf life. The most common methods of pasteurization use either pressure or heat to kill off any harmful pathogens. Although it has its uses, we believe in product quality over profit. This means our juices have a much shorter shelf life than conventional products but all the nutrients stay intact.
Juice is the Answer
When I first got into juicing I had no idea about all of the benefits I would experience. As someone who has had digestive issues my entire life, juice was such a game-changer for me. When my digestion is off I like to skip a meal of solid food and opt for juice instead. When I’m emotionally and/or physically exhausted, I like to take a restful day to myself and consume a liquid diet of mostly juice. When I’ve fallen out of taking care of myself properly, I add in an extra juice or two throughout the week. I think of juice as a supplement. It is not a replacement for a whole foods diet, but rather a way to support and enhance my health. It is only after nearly a decade of research that I am fully able to understand why this practice has helped me so much. If you’re unconvinced after all this, try including a juice or two into your diet every day for a week and see how you feel.
If you have any questions at all regarding anything discussed in this post feel free to reach out to me personally, or through our team at Blank Slate Wellness. We’re here for all your juice-related inquires.
Dani Wiens C.N.P