Healthy or Not So Much? The Skinny on Green Juices

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2013-12_d88aa02cf9.jpgDerkien/Thinkstock (NEW YORK) -- It sounds like the liquid version of Peter Parker’s spider bite or Bruce Banner’s Gamma rays: A magic elixir that can take you from average to super-powered with just a few sips.  It’s green juice: the modern-day equivalent of Popeye’s spinach, in liquid form.

And for those of us looking to balance perfect health with a crazy life, it seems like a great idea: You can’t eat a fruit salad while driving, or spoon up vegetable soup while walking down the street, but you can sip on organic juice and get your seven daily servings of fruits and veggies with minimal effort.  And with models, athletes and celebrities being photographed toting the latest cool juice, a bottle of green has become a status symbol of the healthfully hip.

But are these juices and smoothies popping up all over really as healthy as they seem?  Sure, you’re getting more fruits and vegetables, but is it that easy?  Is a bottle of juice as good for you as eating the real thing?

Not always.  Many experts say that the very processes used to get bottled juices on the shelf may be destroying essential nutrients.  And while you might not be getting the full nutritional bang for your buck, in many cases, what you are getting can hurt you: lots and lots of sugar.

Done properly though, green vegetable-dominant drinks are proven to make you leaner, happier and healthier.  So what are some things you should know to help you started? 1. Make it fresh.  At many trendy city juice bars, you can pay north of $10 for a bottle for freshly squeezed juice. But even a seemingly fresh and healthy upscale juice can be packed with extra sugars.  Don’t assume that just because you’re paying an arm and a leg, you’re going to get something that’s making you leaner and healthier. You can buy a juicer for less than $100 and begin maximizing your nutrition at home. Or look for a juice bar where you can customize your drink and watch them make it in front of you.
2. Keep it green.  Fruits add sweetness to juices, which is great for beginners getting used to the idea of an all-veggie juice; but they can also add a lot of sugar.  Adding too many fruits can easily turn your healthy drink into a high-sugar dessert that spikes blood insulin levels and leaves you sluggish.  In fact, just one serving of fruit juice a day can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 21 percent, according to Harvard researchers.  A tall glass of fruit juice can pack around 50 grams of sugar -- more than twice the daily recommendation of the American Heart Association for women, and more than a full day’s worth for men.  As a rule of thumb, see that the majority of ingredients in your juice is green in color.  (Cucumber and celery are low-calorie ways of adding sweetness to your drink.)
3. Drink your juice right away.  To get the most bang for your buck, consume your clean green drink within 20 minutes of juicing or ordering at the juice bar. Here’s why: As soon as you juice produce, you break open every cell wall of the fruits and vegetables, and from the moment they are exposed to air, their enzymatic and nutritional values begin to deteriorate. It’s a process known as oxidation, which is simply exposure to oxygen. Think about a freshly cut apple that browns over time.  A blended juice or smoothie is even more susceptible to oxidation, since every part of the produce has been exposed to air. Because of this, bottled juices are pasteurized to prevent oxidation and preserve freshness.  Some medical experts suggest consuming green juices on an empty stomach, which allows your body to quickly and easily absorb all the nutrients without other food interfering. Juicing in the morning is a great way to start the day with a huge nutritional boost, without taxing your digestive system.
4. Chew and savor your juice.  Sounds crazy, right?  In fact, chewing and swirling your green drink in your mouth is an important part of the digestive process. That’s because saliva contains the enzyme Ptyalin, which helps to break down food and speed up chemical reactions.  A recent study by Purdue University showed a direct relationship between small particle size and increased nutrient uptake.  In other words, the more you chew, the more nutrients are retained in the body.

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