To Juice…Or Not To Juice

Juice has long held a special place in pop nutrition and pop health as a holy grail of vitality. In a certain sense, this is true, being rich in some vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. However, it’s not this simple by any measure and as the oft quoted phrase goes, it can easily be “too much of a good thing,” if what you’re drinking is really a good thing at all. At the worst, commercially made juices are mostly water and heaps of sugar, with a scarce amount of fruit juice (if any) and a smattering of artificially created vitamins and minerals that our body doesn’t absorb well, that may even cost us more vitamins and minerals to digest that we absorb, on top of artificial chemicals of all kinds (preservatives, color packets [which aren't generally listed on the ingredients] food coloring, etc.). Most of the time, these juices are even made with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which despite the ridiculous ad campaign by the corn industry that without actually directly claiming anything, try to suggest that HFCS is the same as table sugar, and that our body doesn’t know the difference. To those that have any nutrition background with biochemistry knowledge…this is ludicrously and laughably insulting. On top of it’s use as a health product, we overload our children with juice boxes and 5% fruit juice in general, which just kills me to see.

For more information on how fructose specifically affects us differently than glucose, sucrose, or other sugars, and how it’s really a toxin…take a look Here. I have covered at length elsewhere how refined carbohydrates, especially sugar, are among the biggest scourges to our health, and this is one of the biggest problems with juice. Fructose is essentially a toxin to our body, requiring our liver to digest it (our main detoxing organ) and the very epitome of a ‘hollow calorie.’ In nature this isn’t a serious problem because sugar always comes with what is essentially its antidote: fiber, and we didn’t have constant heaping amounts of it in ancestral times, just a sizable amount during seasonal periods of availability. In juice, whether it’s homemade or from the store, fiber has been almost entirely removed unless you used a high grade blender and didn’t remove the skins. I won’t go into the topic of fiber here beyond to say that fiber is immensely important, and is crucial when eating such foods as those that are heavily saturated in fructose. Our diets are already terribly low in fiber as almost all of our modern carb sources are heavily refined (their fiber removed). We spent hundreds of thousands of years only getting fructose from fruit and vegetable sources that were encased in fiber.

Aside from the fiber, as I said at the beginning, most of the nutrients in fruits and veg are in the skin and pulp. When juiced, almost all of this is removed, and with it most of the nutrients. I will not deny there are some in the juice, but the majority are now gone and must be artificially added via elemental sources which are not derived naturally. These ‘fake’ vitamins and minerals are not the ones your body has evolved to digest, and so the body has a lot of problems ‘recognizing’ them and taking them up for use; they have low ‘bio-availability.’ The real problem with this comes from the fact that to absorb minerals, a large amount of minerals are used in our intestines to digest and absorb our food. If our food is without more vitamins and minerals than we use to digest our food, we become nutrient deficient over time (think of it as constantly investing in a stock that only goes down in value). Again we can easily see how juice can be ‘hollow calories,’ quite similar to soda in most respects (and almost identical if it is low in actual fruit juice, and uses HFCS).

Another nail in the coffin is the common practice of using preservatives and other strong chemicals in commercial juices as mentioned above. Some are known carcinogens, some are endocrine disruptors or hormone mimickers (as too are the plastic containers they come in as well, quite commonly) which wreaks havoc on our metabolism, mood, energy levels, reproductive function, and really pretty much every aspect of our health. Regardless of their specific effects, the chemicals present can be considerably dangerous. So too can the chemicals in the commercial fruit fertilizer, the pesticides used, the irradiation process on most fruit that kills many of the nutrients before even being juiced, and so on and so forth. Local organic non-GMO or home grown with organic non-GMO seeds and methods gives you a better chance, but still doesn’t alleviate many of the problems we have here, mostly just those concerning chemicals.

So is juice a total write-off? While I certainly haven’t covered all of the reasons to not drink juice, I’m not going to tell anyone to go completely cold turkey. At least…not for homemade or other quality organic non-GMO juice. I personally go for Good Belly juice, an ounce in the morning and again in the evening with a pro-biotic. This juice is an organic super-food and pro-biotic packed blend, and I suggest you find a similar juice to enjoy when you fancy, or make your own in a high speed blender that includes the liquefied skin and pulp, but try to keep it to a small glass a day of good quality juice regardless of its source (Never anything less than 100% fruit/veg!) and taken with a decent fiber source (as in not in-between or before meals, have it with food) and also preferably only in a diet that has done well to avoid other simple carbohydrates in any abundance (don’t have a diet high in sugar and then just pile on more with your juice, no matter how nutrient filled!). In this way juice can be something to be enjoyed, just as any other treat, but it has to be seen with the knowledge that it isn’t a magic shot of health without any qualifiers. All things in nutrition in balance, juice certainly not being an exception.

But unhealthy foods taste so good!

In a big way this can be very true, and it is no mistake. I haven’t had a McDonalds egg and cheese biscuit in over 10 years and I still start drooling every time I drive by with my window down. Fast food, “reduced” fat or sugar foods, and really just about any processed food (which is more than you think) are designed for appeal on the chemical level.  Manufacturers do a lot to alter how food tastes and feels so that anything else just won’t cut it for us any more, making many people dislike healthier, less processed, foods. These chemically manufactured foods much more strongly affect the pleasure centers of our brain. But how do they manage such mind control?

The fact is, fats and sugar are already so appealing to our taste buds and mouth, they just taste and feel good. For millions of years of human and primate history, food has been scarce, and I’m not talking one meal a day, but maybe regular periods of not eating for days at a time. Our body and our mouth knows a good source of calories when it finds it; sugar and fat are a gold mine for calories. This isn’t a bad thing either; what would be bad is if our bodies didn’t like foods that offered the calories we need. If it didn’t then our species would have starved to extinction in its very infancy! The scientists who help design processed foods certainly know this, and have been designing foods with this in mind. They design foods that are chalked with high sugar content and loaded with fat, low in fiber (which can dilute the taste of sweetness), protein, and other ingredients that may be more healthy but more expensive, and may not deliver that mouth watery savory fat or sweet sugary taste they want to addict you to.

Now, I know most of you are aware of this. We like sugar and fat, and processed foods are full of it; no real news there. Sugar by itself isn’t very good for us (I’m not telling you to abstain from whole fruit), and too many of the wrong fats would certainly be a big step in the wrong direction. But it goes much further than this. These food scientists have made artificial ’0′ calorie sweeteners, like Sweet N` Low, Splenda, and other similar brands. Also there is a category of food additives generally referred to as ‘natural flavors,’ which enhance the mouth-feel of a food similar to fats, giving it a savory or creamy feel. Either one by themselves, or together, creates a biological appeal for our tongue that far surpasses anything ‘real’ food can realistically present. This has a number of negative effects, on top of the consumption of these ingredients that are by themselves quite bad for us as most are toxic or are known to contribute to cancers and other diseases.

Let’s start with artificial sweeteners. Our body has a slightly different digestion process for proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (including sugar). One of the things that tells the body how much food is coming into the digestive system and how to respond and prepare for its digestion, is how sweet our food is. The moment food hits our tongue, we start salivating and secreting specific amounts and types of enzymes to start digesting our food, in part depending on what our tongue detects. More than that, when anticipating food we already start salivating and releasing insulin and enzymes for digestion  All is good and well so far, right? Well, when we start eating something with artificial sweeteners; a can of ’0′ calorie soda for example, the sweetener they use is dozens or even thousands of times sweeter than the high fructose corn syrup that they usually use, which itself is sweeter than standard table sugar. Also remember that ancestrally, except for during the correct season for fruit, we did not eat sugar for 99.999% of our existence as a species. So what is the result? Your body thinks a massive banquet of food is being eaten, so prepares for eating a mound of food/sugar regardless of what is actually being taken in. When we eat huge amounts of calories at once, our body can only store so much for daily use in our cells, and thanks to eons of our body preparing for regular fasting and periods of short starvation, our body puts the excess calories into adipose tissue (fat).

So say we just eat a normal, or even a small meal, but the sweetness we experience tells our tongue it’s going to be a huge meal, prompting our body to prepare to digest and store it for later. When we have something like a ’0′ calorie artificially sweetened soda your body thinks it is going to binge on a huge feast and stores much more of the food as fat than it would if it wasn’t tricked by the artificial sweetener.  This makes it so you might store more calories as fat from a small meal because of the artificial sugar than you might from a medium sized meal without the artificial sugar.  You will probably store more fat from eating foods with artificial sugars, than normal sugars (table sugar/cane sugar being a better choice than high-fructose corn syrup as well, for this and other reasons, though it still shouldn’t be consumed). I would honestly suggest some one drink a regular soda rather than artificially sweetened one, and both are terrible for you.

On top of storing more fat, these fake sugars screw up our gut flora. Each of us has several pounds of healthy beneficial bacteria living in our intestines. These symbiotic bacteria help break down and digest certain nutrients and vitamins from our food, and possibly most importantly, fight off unhealthy bacteria that may want to rent a spot in our GI tract. When we consume artificial sweeteners it empowers bad gut bacteria and harms our beneficial bacterial, which has a host of negative effects on our system. Digestive health and even immunity may suffer. Just having loads of refined sugar, be it from high fructose corn syrup, or table sugar, is bad for our gut flora as it is, while artificial sugars can be downright disastrous.

Moving on to the other side of processed food additives, we have what are usually referred to as ‘natural flavors.’ Sounds like a good thing doesn’t it, certainly better than artificial flavors? Unfortunately this is usually the accepted phrase for a range of chemicals used to add creamy textures and savory mouth-feel to food. You might see it in cakes, cookies, processed milks, and actually almost every other processed food on the market. The ‘natural’ part of the phrase only means it was in some form derived from something in nature, but this can be a compound that was from chemically treated animal hooves. Tasty, right? Also, just because it occurs in nature, doesn’t mean it’s inherently healthy.

The definition of natural flavor under the Code of Federal Regulations is: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional”

This basically means a wide range of chemicals derived from some kind of actual living thing, which could be beef by-products, a highly processed extract, or other chemical that originally came from a natural source, but is not any healthier than an artificial flavorant. Half of the problem is you get foods that have an unrealistically creamy or savory qualities, making you eat more of a food than you need or want, without any beneficial health benefits, and indeed many potential harmful side effects. Carrageenan as one example, is used as a thickening agent in many foods, even certified organic health foods. The problem, however, is that studies have demonstrated that carregeenan can cause ulcers and gastro-intestinal cancer in lab animals. There are other potential complications as well, such as contributing to or causing inflammatory bowel disease. These are not ingredients we want to mess around with!

Except in rare cases, our digestive system should feel healthy and regular, but so many people have daily or weekly GI distress and discomfort, and a good amount of it is because of the processed and chemical ingredients we consume that hundreds of thousands of years of biological eating habits is not able to cope with. Changing our diet to more whole natural foods can heavily alter how healthy our digestive system is, and by that our whole body. Avoiding as much processed food as possible is a great step in the right direction. Another thing to watch out for in a lot of normal foods like mayonnaise and peanut butter which are labeled as ‘low’ or ‘reduced sugar/far,’ which tend to just replace that missing fat or sugar, with a disproportionate amount of fat, if sugar was reduced, and fat, if sugar was reduced. Alternatively artificial ingredients may be added in their place, and we begin the cycle again, killing our gut flora, packing on more body fat, and disrupting normal digestion.

So aside from being aware of what effect these foods may be having on your digestive system and indeed your whole body’s health, I would like to add an important point. We are not doomed to forever be craving these chemically and genetically engineered foods because of how much sweeter or creamier they may be compared to natural foods. Several years back, I went on a bodybuilders cutting diet (which I will immediately say you should not go on unless you know what you’re doing), where basically I abstained from almost all carbohydrates except fibrous vegetables. After about a week I happened to have a piece of imitation crab meat and it tasted like candy…I am not kidding it tasted as sweet as a Snickers! A glass of milk tasted like a can of soda. My tongue was so used to having heavily fibrous vegetables as its only source of carbohydrates that even the least powerful of sugars was over-poweringly sweet. As I got back into my regular diet, slowly transitioning in, my taste buds got readjusted to normal, but it was a surreal experience.

So what am I getting at here anyway? With adjusting to less sugary foods my taste buds adjusted to a new spectrum that was just as satisfying to me. I recently switched from Splenda in my tea to cubes of sugar, and aside from the slight taste difference, I really am quite happy with the change and don’t notice the decrease in sweetness now (since the time of this writing I have switched to small amounts of local, unfiltered raw honey). The same goes for our other foods. Take a small step away from these artificial and unrealistic foods, and a step towards more authentic less processed foods and not only will you adjust to the change, you will likely find yourself no longer liking the foods that are so unhealthy. Anytime I eat something approaching fast food or convenience, I don’t enjoy the flavors and it makes my digestion system quite sick, because now that it is no longer desensitized so such terrible ingredients, it just won’t stand for it. My body recognizes those food like products for what they are. I’ve felt so much healthier as I’ve taken one step after another away from processed foods and ingredients, and I can tell you that I’m not looking back. Those healthier and more whole foods also just taste better and better.

Sugar, The Bitter Truth

This is a fantastic video I found a couple years ago that really describes the functions and effects of carbohydrates, in particular Dr. Lustig speaks on sugar. This is an incredible eye opening lecture that shows you what damage sugar, specifically refined sugars, can have on our bodies, and the food culture and industry that perpetuates it. This is one of the best single lectures I have ever found. I am linking both the full version, and a short version other people have made to make it more digestible by laypersons. There are certainly some dense scientific portions in the full video, but I urge you to watch it when you find the opportunity, supplementing with the short version that cuts out the most detailed science.