How to Avoid the Dangers of Juicing and Smoothies
There are wonderful benefits to a healthier diet, but few realize that there
are dangers as well, even in juicing and smoothies! The good news is that these risks are rare and avoidable. But it’s sobering to learn that our health-conscious efforts to improve our nutrition can sometimes lead to problems!
As fresh juicing and smoothies becomes more popular, it’s important to know that there are a few minor risks. I stress that these are VERY minor, and nothing that should discourage anyone from juicing or smoothies with all the amazing benefits including better health, more energy, a delicious alternative to sugary drinks especially for children, and my favorite, the most convenient way to consume all the recommended daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, a fresh juice or smoothie is just about the healthiest thing you can do for yourself, your family, and your friends! So let’s be aware of these concerns, but keep a healthy perspective!
Food Borne Illness
The CDC reports that leafy greens are the leading cause of food poisoning in the US (although more hospitalizations are due to dairy products and more deaths are attributed to poultry).
The CDC and FDA recommend rinsing your produce in cold water, don’t buy pre-cut veggies and fruits, and grow your own sprouts. Washing with soap is not recommended. For easy guidelines see this article by the University of Maine.
Add a little vinegar for additional protection. A study published in the Journal of Food Protection found that washing apples with vinegar and water reduced bacteria significantly better than water alone. The premier food magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, sponsored a similar experiment and found that vinegar killed approximately 98% of bacteria on the surface of fresh fruits and vegetables. No soaking required. And no vinegar taste. Just spray white vinegar on your produce and rinse.
But let’s put this in perspective I know folks who rarely rinse their produce and have never had a problem. I’m one of them. However, if you’re pregnant or you’re making juices or smoothies for your children – both have a greater risk of infection and illness – I’d surely rinse all produce. And every time I read something about the working conditions of huge farms that grow and harvest commercial foods, I start rinsing all my produce! Unlike packaged beverages which undergo pasteurization to eradicate harmful organisms, fresh juice can only be made less risky by rinsing your produce. Also, storing fresh juice makes it more vulnerable to bacteria so it’s best to drink it right away.
Some seeds, rind, and leaves of common fruits and vegetables contain harmful substances! This will likely surprise you as much as it did me. The seeds of apples, peaches, apricots, cherries, and raspberries, as well as the leaves of carrots, rhubarb, parsnip, and Queen Anne’s Lace (wild carrot) contain toxic compounds, but the amounts are so minute as to be of no real concern.
The compound that freaks people out is known as amygdalin which produces cyanide, but the amount is so small that your body easily neutralizes it. There are claims that amygdalin has positive uses including cancer treatment. The American Cancer Society reviews this claim in a thorough and balanced article. The bottom line is that you would have to eat handfuls of these seeds or pits AND DIGEST THEM to experience serious illness. The seeds and pits have a tough coating impervious to digestion by most mammals. Symptoms of amygdalin toxicity are severe stomach cramps, headache, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and seizures. However, if too many seeds were eaten and digested, one would likely vomit a few times and not develop any other symptoms.
The rind of orange and grapefruit has a small amount of a toxic compound now used as an insecticide. Ingesting a small amount is absolutely safe for you and your pets, but several orange peels will definitely upset the stomach.
There are also toxic substances in some sprouts. This is another one of those pieces of info that’s interesting but of no real health concern. In the interest of awareness here’s a brief review of toxins in sprouts.
- Lathyrogen is found in an inedible species of bean in the genus Lathyrus.
- Saponins are found in bean sprouts and are not harmful, though some dispute this claim because in test tube conditions saponins kill red blood cells. They are not only harmless in the body but extremely beneficial for lowering cholesterol, protecting against heart disease, and fighting certain cancers.
- Canavanine is a toxic compound found in alfalfa seeds. However, as with the toxin in apple seeds, it is so minute as not to be an issue. An adult would have to consume 14,000 milligrams of canavanine at one time to feel any toxic effects. A large helping of alfalfa sprouts gives you a few milligrams. For more about these compounds in sprouts go to this link.
While we’re on the subject of stomach upset, certain fruits and veggies are so powerful that you may experience some stomach distress if you drink too much of them. Too many leafy greens or wheatgrass can do this. For others, too much beet will do the same.
For those with sensitive digestion, mixing raw fruits and veggies can do this. I mix them every day with no ill effect. Standard nutritional rules state that in generally fruits and veggies should be eaten separately, though certain fruits go well with certain vegetables. In fact certain mixes are highly recommended for juice fasting and dieting, and for fighting diseases. The most common ‘ill effect’ of mixing fruits and veggies is gas, because fruit digests faster and uses different digestive enzymes. Carrots and apples are considered exceptions – carrots go well with any fruit and apples go well with any veggie.
This is a concern only for those who limit themselves to juice or smoothies alone for long periods, especially if you’re pregnant, a young person still growing, and women in or past menopause.
It’s important to realize what vegetarians have long known and nutritional science confirms: you CAN get all the nutrients the body needs by only eating fruits and vegetables. It just takes a little extra attention to insure that you get enough of the nutrients that are difficult to find in fruits and veggies alone. So this article is not meant to discourage anyone from following a vegetarian or vegan diet. These diets and lifestyles are a great choice for some people. It is also better for the environment since growing fruits and vegetables is much more sustainable than raising animals. The bottom line is that when it comes to poor eating habits, change is good, if done wisely.
According to Dr. Nicole Sundene, a physician who specializes in natural remedies to treat the root causes of disease, patients who make dietary changes, particularly those who eliminate animal products, may experience the following symptoms: fatigue, dry hair, dry skin, brittle nails, hypoglycemia (anxiety, sweating, intense hunger, palpitations, nausea and weakness), frequent colds and infections, and osteoporosis. All are due to nutrient deficiencies.
Additionally, there is a greater risk of gum disease and tooth decay. According to Dr. Ludwig Leibsohn of the Academy of General Dentistry, nutritional deficiencies that lead to gum disease and tooth decay are greatest among children and teenagers who decide to become vegetarians without knowing enough about their nutritional needs, and among vegans who neglect critical nutrients that are not easily found in a strict fruit and veggie diet.
There are 5 nutrients to be concerned about: iron, calcium, zinc, Omega 3 and B12. You may be surprised that I didn’t list protein since many people think that protein is a common deficiency among those who reduce or eliminate meat in their diets. Not true. Protein is found in all plant food, and most vegetarians have no problem eating enough protein. Surprisingly, meat eaters tend to eat too much protein which is also a problem. High protein intake of more than 30% of your diet can actually cause bone loss and fat gain.
- Iron – The primary symptom of iron deficiency is anemia, and it’s interesting to
note that anemia is prevalent in the general population especially among children. Studies show rates that range from 10% to 50%, and rates among vegetarians are not significantly different from the general population.
Dr. Sundene lists the following vegetarian sources of iron from highest to lowest: tofu, black strap molasses, amaranth, lentils, Swiss chard, dulse, lima beans, potato, wheat germ, pinto beans, kidney beans, dandelion greens, kale, pumpkin seeds, black beans, spinach, broccoli, almonds, pumpkin, beet greens, brewer’s yeast, quinoa, teff, figs, raisins, prunes, green beans, millet, whole wheat, parsley, kelp, oats, corn, peanuts, cashew butter, almond butter, blueberries, bananas and raspberries. Note that the veggie form of iron needs vitamin C in order to be absorbed by the body, and the very best source of vitamin C is fresh fruits and veggies. An additional non-meat source of iron is cooking in iron pots and pans.
- Calcium – As with iron, calcium deficiency is prevalent in the general population, particularly among women over 40 primarily due to a poor diet. Osteoporosis, gum disease, and tooth decay are symptoms. The best vegetable sources of calcium are cooked leafy greens. Those that are highest in calcium are turnip, collards, and spinach, but all greens are good. Other non-dairy sources of calcium are rhubarb, oatmeal, tofu, broccoli, molasses, almonds, filberts, oranges, kale, tahini, and garbanzo beans.
Zinc – Skin problems and increased colds and infections are most likely an indication of zinc deficiency. The RDA of zinc is 15mg daily. Non-animal sources of zinc will provide 2-5mg of protein per serving such as toasted wheat germ (1/4 cup), Swiss chard, lima beans, baked potato, oats, mustard greens, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, rice, kidney beans, ginger root, wild rice, peas, leeks, lentils, cashews, sunflower seeds, and lima beans.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Almost all Americans are deficient in Omega 3, and it’s critical for a healthy nervous system and for fighting inflammation. The best vegetarian sources are flaxseeds and raw walnuts. Don’t cook them. Rather, grind them in your coffee grinder and add to your juice, soups, salads, brown rice, smoothies, applesauce or yogurt.
- B12 – This vitamin is difficult to get in a diet that’s free of animal products. In fact, most vegans take a B12 supplement. Symptoms of this deficiency are anemia and nervous system problems. The recommended daily allowance as established by nutritional science is 3 mcg. You can get your RDA from non-meat sources by eating the following on a daily basis: two eggs and 2 cups of milk, or 2 eggs and 2 servings of cheese or yogurt, or 3 tablespoons of brewers yeast, or a teaspoon of spirulina or chlorella, or three sheets or nori seaweed.
So eat more fruits and veggies! And be wise about it too. I want to thank Alison Buck, a classical homeopath who first brought to my attention the concerns about tooth decay.
Here is an excellent brief video on this issue – just be aware that this trained nutritionist is not quite accurate about fiber in juice or protein in vegetarian diets – you can get adequate fiber – soluble fiber – from juice, and you can get adequate protein from plant sources. The rest of this video is quite good.
Grapefruit juice is contraindicated if you take certain medications. Talk to your physician or pharmacist if this is a concern.
If you have any thyroid issues, compounds in raw cruciferous vegetables can interfere with your treatment. Again talk with your physician because thyroid and other health problems can be effectively improved with certain fruits and vegetables. Cruciferous veggies include kale, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, cauliflower, turnips, arugula, Brussels sprouts, radishes, collard greens, kohlrabi, rutabaga, and watercress.
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Another medical concern is diabetes. The old rule of thumb is that anyone who is diabetic should stay away from fruit and sweet veggies such as carrots, beets, etc. Recent research has overturned this with the discovery that many fruits and veggies have compounds that actually help regulate sugar levels better than cooked food. This is exciting news for diabetics so talk to your physician right away!
There is concern about the issue of fiber. Fresh juice separates ‘pulp’ from juice. The pulp is primarily insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber remains in the juice. Nonetheless, juice provides less fiber than the whole food unless one returns the pulp to the juice. For those who need more fiber in their diet, blended drinks (popularly known as ‘smoothies’) may be a better choice since they do not separate pulp from the juice. Pulp is also added calories so for weight loss, juice is a better choice.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation points out that compounds in dark leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, etc.) can interfere with calcium absorption. They recommend that these rich foods be added to your juice recipes 2-3 times a week instead of every day.
Don’t juice too many tomatoes or oranges if you have acid reflux since the high acid content can aggravate and even lead to acid reflux.
Plus 1 More!
I’ve just added this concern based on new information I’ve learned about sugar.
We as a culture over-consume so much sugar, whether from healthy raw organic fruit or from processed foods, and the effects are far worse than we know. So I am seriously advocating as does the leading proponent of raw foods, the Hippocrates Institute, that we eat less fruit and more vegetables. For a complete look at shocking facts that the sugar industry doesn’t want you to know, see this article.
Oh by the way, here is a fascinating video by experts in the raw food world about raw foods to stay away from!