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Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Fruit Juice?

Until I first saw a commercial for a Jack LaLanne Power Juicer, I don’t think I took juice seriously as a mechanism for delivering anything other than delicious pleasure to my taste buds, never dreaming that it could be promoted as a way to fast track the delivery of vitamins, minerals and healthy antioxidants to my bloodstream, too.

On one hand, this makes sense: The essence of most medicines lies in their ability of specialists to identify beneficial chemicals, isolate them from whatever part of their native environments might not be well received by a human body and adjust the concentrations in order to safely effectuate the desired outcome. Or to put it more succinctly — no one wants to chew the salicin straight out of a willow tree’s bark; they’d much rather pop an aspirin, which is what salicin is ultimately synthesized into. (Your mouth definitely ends up with far fewer splinters that way.)

But in order to respond to the question as to whether or not there’s honestly such a thing as healthy fruit juice, I’m going to borrow an answer from Chris Rock and apply it to this far less controversial question: “The answer is, ‘Not really.’”

Of course fruit juice is healthy! It’s made out of fruit, and fruit is healthy!

Are you sure about that? It sounds reasonable, but let’s take that logic for a spin in a real-world situation. Namely, you pull a Jack LaLanne and opt to funnel a bushel of grapes, a cup of raspberries, a cup of blueberries, a whole orange and a slice of watermelon through the Juice Loosener, and you guzzle the liquid from the glass that’s awaiting you at the other end. You’re going to get a mountain of vitamin C from several of these fruits, along with plenty of iron, magnesium, calcium and vitamin A. All of this is going to be absorbed into your body very quickly now that these micronutrients have been freed from their fibrous surroundings.

That sounds awesome! How could something like this be unhealthy?

Because you rapidly absorbed that burst of 100 percent pure juicy flavor, baby! Now you’re going to have to pay the steep price.

When you take what is essentially pure juice and set it free from fiber, you’ve got untethered sugar on your hands, and that’s going to have consequences. Without the fiber to slow the digestion of the sugar, your body’s blood sugar level will dramatically spike. Your liver will need to suppress that runaway sugar, regulating it in the process, and your pancreas will need to release insulin, converting that sugary surge into body fat.

Now let’s inspect the contents of that LaLanne juice blend a little more closely. He juiced a bushel of grapes (100 calories), a cup of raspberries (65 calories), a cup of blueberries (80 calories), a whole orange (62 calories) and a slice of watermelon (85 calories). You’re basically dumping around 350 calories of unrestrained sugar into your body, and informing the liver, “It’s your problem now; deal with it, pal!” When that happens, there’s very little that can be done to prevent those calories from spiking your blood sugar level and contributing to the growth of additional adipose tissue. 

If you do this enough times, you’ll be very cold-resistant thanks to all of the vitamin C, which is fantastic because you’ll have so many calories to burn off that you won’t be able to afford the loss of any training time to illness.

But what if I made a drink out of something as simple as apples and carrots?

We can talk later about why you think you need the specific combination of apples and carrots. For the moment, though, let’s hypothesize that you really want to get the benefits of two apples and two servings of baby carrots, but you don’t want to take the time to eat them whole. This means juicing two cups of baby carrots and two medium apples, and sending approximately 360 calories worth of sugary liquid barreling through your digestive system, leaving your body in a tizzy trying to make sense of it all. 

I’m sure your eyes will appreciate the megadose of vitamin A, and the other relevant areas of your body will appreciate the large quantities of vitamin C, vitamin K and iron that were just administered. However, again, your liver and pancreas don’t know that the sugar deluge they just experienced came from a cluster of fruits and vegetables. Your internal organs simply aren’t that clever. All they know is that they have a job to do, and they’d better start getting this sugar rush under control before all hell breaks loose.

Okay, but what if I juice celery?

You’re just doing this to be annoying now, aren’t you? Also, you’re moving the goalposts — celery isn’t a fruit.

Look, if you really want to start juicing something as low-calorie as celery, you can reasonably factor in how much of the fiber isn’t digested, and therefore, won’t count toward your caloric total. This is among the practices that keto diet adherents have been banging the drum about for years. In this case, you could chug four cups worth of celery and still only drink 32 calories that would matter in any sort of detrimental sense. And that’s a figure so low that I’m willing to bet you could live with it.

But seriously, who wants to juice celery? From where I’m sitting, the two major points of juice are to quench your thirst with something sweet, and to mask acrid flavors with sweeter fluids that attenuate the bitterness. Most people juicing a celery are going to take one sip, spew it out and immediately chase that celery through the juicer with something like a peach. 

As for that peach juice, I’ll say it one last time: When you take something sugary sweet and try to eliminate everything that gets in the way of that sweetness, you shouldn’t be offended when someone has the nerve to suggest that the juicy whole isn’t necessarily better for you than the sum of its solid parts.