Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Juicing For Health: Facts and Fiction

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There's been a lot of chatter in the media about juicing recently, some of it woefully ill-informed. I've been a keen "juice-aholic" since 2006 when MS first arrived on the scene, and I believe that getting all that concentrated nutrition from vegetable juices every day has played a valuable role in my recovery.

I've learned a lot along the way, and made plenty of rookie mistakes, but I have no doubt that, done right, regular juicing can be one of the best things you can do for your health. 

What do I mean by "done right"? To answer this question, we really need to start by understanding what juicing for health is, and what it isn't.

What Is Juicing?

1. Juicing for health is putting fresh raw vegetables and fruits through a juicer - a.k.a.  juice extractor - which separates the juice from the fibre of the produce. 
There are basically two types of juicer: 
  • a centrifugal juicer which "whizzes" the produce very fast against a fine metal mesh and extracts the juice using the centrifugal force, and
  • a masticating juicer which "chews" the produce more slowly using a heavy auger and thus squeezes out the juice. These are also known as "slow" or "cold-press" juicers.
Centrifugal juicers are quicker, generally cheaper to buy, but extract less juice than masticating juicers, and the juice produced has a shorter shelf-life because the heat generated by the process speeds up the oxidisation process.

Masticating juicers are slower, more expensive to buy, and generally produce more juice, which can last up to three times longer if stored away from heat, light and oxygen.

2. Juicing for health means drinking the freshly extracted juice of raw whole vegetableswhich may or may not be sweetened with a little freshly extracted fruit juice. 

The reason for doing this should be clear when you bear in mind that: 
  • All of the vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients the body needs to repair and maintain itself are found in plants, and
  • These precious nutrients are mostly dissolved or suspended in the liquids of the plants, rather than in their fibres, and
  • Anyone trying to live on the modern western diet will have a digestive system that by adulthood is, at best, a little worn out, and at worst, totally bunged up or clapped out. Impaired intestines have to work extremely hard to extract the nutrition held in plant fibres. They do their best, but it's a tough, demanding job that takes a great deal of energy. No wonder so many of us are tired! 
So the idea with juicing is that, as a supplement to eating a healthy varied diet rich in plant foods, we also give our bodies an extra boost, perhaps once a day, by giving them some pure freshly extracted vegetable juices. We outsource that energy-hungry extraction work and let the machine take the strain!

3. Juicing for health includes getting as much green juice as possible.
You were probably told as a child to "eat your greens or you won't get any pudding" - I know I was! I now understand why: green vegetables are the most nutritious and healing foods on the planet. Current theory states that dark green leafy vegetables contain more micronutrients per calorie than any other food. Indeed, the so-called "father of juicing", Norman W. Walker, who was said to be fit and healthy right up to his death at the age of 99, often emphasised the power of green juices for optimal human health.
Of course, spinach or kale juice on their own taste fairly strong, which is why we add other beneficial veg with softer flavours such as cucumbers, courgettes, something tangy like lime and ginger, or perhaps something sweet like carrot, apple or pear. But it's the green that does the most good. And these days, I feel my day's not complete without a green juice! Without one, the fatigue so common in MS and depression tends to come right back.

4. Juicing for health involves - ideally - getting a wide variety of juices, not just the same spinach and carrot combo day after day. Different vegetables offer different micronutrients and their cofactors, so it's a great idea to get as wide a range as you can overall.
For example, in the space of a week I might juice (or blend) all of the following:

spinach, kale (red or green), broccoli, cabbage (red, green or white), 
cucumber, celery, courgette, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, lemon, lime, 
ginger, turmeric root, apple, kiwi, pear, peach, banana*, avocado*,
blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries**

A nutritional scientist could hazard a guess at how many different micronutrients and live enzymes I'm getting in that lot, but even they wouldn't know about all the phytonutrients that we haven't identified and labelled yet! 
* Bananas or avocados can't be juiced but they're great when blended into a juice - in moderation, naturally.
**Berries are best blended in rather than juiced. They're a great option because they tend to be lower in fructose and higher in antioxidants than other fruits.

5. Juicing for health means, as a general rule, "drinking your veg and eating your fruit". This advice comes from one of the UK's popular juicing advocates, Jason Vale. It's also sound advice based in solid nutritional theory. Here comes the science bit:
Fruit is high in a simple carbohydrate called fructose, which is a naturally-occurring sugar. As with any kind of sugar, too much of it can cause problems with our teeth, blood sugar levels, pancreatic health and of course body weight. That's the bad news. The good news about fruits is that, like vegetables, they also contain an astounding variety of micronutrients, including those all-important antioxidants that help our cells fight the damaging effects of free radicals.
To get the benefits of fruit while limiting the risks, all we need to do is eat them whole. When I eat an apple, the natural sugar (fructose) is contained in the fibre of the fruit. So as my body digests the apple, slowly extracting its juice from its fibre, the fructose is absorbed into my bloodstream more slowly than if I had drunk only the pure juice of that apple. This means that blood sugar spikes are not a problem, and there's no risk to my pancreas or my waistline either. Likewise, if I blend my apple into some freshly extracted green juice to make a green smoothie, I am simply making the smoothie a little sweeter, plus adding in all the enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and fibre contained in that apple, to create a delicious liquid meal.

So eaten whole as a snack or blended whole into a veggie smoothie, fruit can and should be enjoyed in moderation - unless you have a particular intolerance, allergy, or medical contraindication.
Vegetables, on the other hand, often have much tougher fibres than fruits and are much lower in fructose, so there is greater benefit in extracting the juice from the fibres and drinking it pure and fresh from the juicer.
Of course, many soft vegetables can be easy to digest and make terrific salads too. Juicing is not an alternative to eating salads - it's an addition.

What Juicing Isn't

1. Juicing for health is NOT drinking boxed or bottled juices
Whether in a carton, bottle, or can, any juice or smoothie that you buy in a supermarket must have been pasteurised, to prevent it from going off while it sits there waiting to be bought. In most western counties, this is the law. This is also true of the juices and smoothies that you find in the chiller aisle.
Pasteurisation is heating, or in other words, cooking.
Once you "cook" a juice you kill the live enzymes in it, and destroy a lot of the vitamins too. Enzymes are the chemical catalysts found in the whole vegetable or fruit that make it easy for the body to to digest it and know how best to use it. When we eat food that no longer has enzymatic activity - i.e. cooked food - our bodies have to withdraw enzymes from our their own store in order to process that food. The body can cope, because that's what bodies do, but it's harder work and less energy-efficient than consuming the food uncooked and with the necessary enzymes included. That's one reason why a freshly extracted vegetable juice is so energising - you get all that nutrition without have to dip into your energy or enzyme stores in order to digest it.
The other problem with pasteurised juices is that they are very high in the kind of pure fructose than can cause blood sugar problems. This is precisely the sort of juice that the tabloids are thinking about when they print their ridiculous "juicing makes you fat" kind of headlines. Yes, drinking a carton of pasteurised orange juice every day probably would contribute to weight gain and tooth decay, but doing so is NOT juicing.
I repeat: "juicing for health" is not drinking shop-bought (pasteurised) juices. Got it? Good! :)

2. Juicing for health is NOT drinking lots of fruit juice
Most vegetable juices need the inclusion of a little something to cut the bitterness of the flavour, especially those deep greens. This can be done by including the juice of an apple, a pear or even just one of the sweeter veggies like carrots and beetroot. It can also be done by blending in a piece of fruit, so you also get that extra fibre, or half an avocado, for the beneficial fats.
But juices that have only fruit juice in are not recommended, especially not for anyone with weight problems, blood sugar issues, or weak teeth or gums. While it's true that you get more vitamins and enzymes in a freshly-extracted fruit juice than you would in, say, a cola or a sugary latte, you also get a lot of fructose in pure fruit juice that can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, and increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
Once in a blue moon I might treat myself to a yummy "Green Sherbet Lemonade", when I fancy something sweet, but I don't kid myself that this is healthy. This juicy life is not about absolutism or any kind of rulebook. It is about loving life so much that I want more of it - which means keeping my body healthy and energetic enough to enjoy it.
Please be warned: there are a lot of unhealthy "fad" drinks out there that may be labelled "natural", "pure", "fresh", "100% fruit" and the like. But if they're in a shop, they're cooked, which means very high in pure sugar but without all the goodies, which means, if used too often, they could seriously damage your health (as well as your wallet). Don't be taken in!

One exception: nowadays you can find bottled juices in juice bars that should have been juiced that day. These do not have to be pasteurised, i.e. they are not "cooked".
If in doubt, ask when they were juiced and how they've been kept. The ideal is to protect juice from heat, oxygen and light in order to keep them "live" for longer.

If in doubt, remember: 
Drink Your Veg and Eat Your Fruit !

To find out more about juicing check out the links (on the right) and follow this blog for future juicing articles and recipes.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

What's all this about green smoothies?

With movies like "Powered By Green Smoothies" getting noticed, and Nutribullet adverts on the telly almost every time you switch it on, you may be wondering what all this "green smoothie" hoo-ha is about.

A green smoothie is simply a smoothie where around half the produce that you
blend in is those dark green leafy vegetables
that we all need to eat more of. I'm talking about the kings of the veg world: spinach, kale, chard, collards - pound for pound the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. The other half of a green smoothie is made up of fruit or berries, sweetening the whole thing to make it a delicious meal.
I don't mind admitting that I'm a big fan. And right now, while I'm living in a place without a juicer, I'm having a glass of this green rocket fuel every day.
If like me you have blood sugar issues, you may find it best to keep to a 50/50 ratio of greens to fruit, and exchange sugar-rich tropical fruits (bananas, mangoes, pineapples) for lower-sugar apples and berries.
If you're healthy and have no weight to lose, I can't see a reason not to follow the suggested 60/40 rule in this excellent beginner's guide to green smoothies, from the inspiring blog Simple Green Smoothies 

Three quick tips to get you started:

  1. You don't need to buy an expensive smoothie maker to make smoothies. Any good blender will do. Generally, the more powerful the motor, the smoother the mix.
  2. Before you whizz, just notice all the good stuff that's going into your smoothie. Imagine that lot on a plate. A smoothie is a MEAL, not a drink to gulp down WITH a meal!
  3. Be creative, but don't be put off if you have one or two disappointments as you're starting out. My first two attempts were fairly awful! Follow the suggestions in this guide and you'll soon get the hang of it.

To your good health!