Cold-Pressed Juice: Should It Be Your New Main Squeeze?

Closeup of Fresh Red Beet Juice

In case you’ve missed it, there’s a new elixir that’s flying out of juice bars and coffeehouses across the country: cold-pressed juice. Touting a multitude of benefits such as detox and cleansing, immunity boosting, superior nutrition, “live enzymes” and weight loss, cold-pressed juice has become the darling of the natural health industry – and one of the hottest nutrition trends of 2013.

With consumers lining up and paying a hefty premium (as much as $12 per bottle), you may be wondering if you should give a juice cleanse a try. Let’s a closer look under the lid.

The Basics: What Is It?
Like the coffee bar, the juice category now has an entirely unique vocabulary that’s sprouted up around it. Here’s a quick primer:

  • Traditional juice: Found in the grocery store or other outlets, traditional juice is heated to a high temperature for a short amount of time (the FDA sets specific guidelines depending on the fruit) to kill potentially harmful bacteria, molds or other micro-organisms that may be lurking in juice. While even this category has caught on to the lure of boasting how fresh it is, and even “how many oranges” went into the carton, critics say this process, called pasteurization, could alter or destroy the vitamins (such as vitamin C), enzymes and phytonutrients originally present in the juice.
  • Fresh juice: Fresh juice, in contrast, which you may find in your local juice bar or sold commercially and labeled as “fresh,” is made with fresh fruits and vegetables that are usually put into a juicer with fast spinning metal blades that uses centrifugal force that push the fruit and vegetable through a mesh filter – separating juice from flesh. These, too, may be pasteurized or sold fresh, so check the label. Critics claim that the metal blades heat up the juice, oxidizing nutrients and creating a less nutritious final product.
  • Cold-pressed juice: The newest in the category, its claim to fame (as its name implies) is that it uses a pristine “cold pressure” method: Fruits and vegetables are crushed together, then placed in a permeable pouch, which is subjected to tremendous pressure. This pressure squeezes out every last ounce of liquid, leaving behind pulp that is practically dry. Devotees claim that this cold process not only creates the highest quality nectar, but that the rich, dark hued final product also retains more vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

4 Reasons to Think Before You Drink:
So is it all in the method? Taste aside (you may swoon over one particular company or concoction), there’s no substantial science to support many of the claims of unique benefits, particularly those murkier to prove, such as enzymes, energy, cleansing or detoxing. Interestingly, a comparison of the nutrition facts panel between a traditional national orange juice brand and a top selling national cold-press juice brand reveals fairly similar nutrition prowess for each 8 ounce serving – nearly identical when it came to calories, sugars and potassium, while the traditional orange juice listed higher levels of several B vitamins, although a bit less vitamin C and iron.

There’s no doubt that a freshly squeezed juice – whether at home or at a juice bar – can certainly be a refreshing and revitalizing experience for many of us. Still, there are some caveats when it comes to juice, even juice made from nature’s healthiest foods like vegetables and fruits. Juice lovers may see it as an “instant health hit to the bloodstream,” but any juice (even cold-pressed) can trigger a sharp rise in blood sugar, partially because it lacks the fiber of whole fruits and vegetables. Therefore, people with diabetes or insulin resistance need to be especially careful of this trend. Here are four reasons to proceed with caution.

1. Claims are ahead of the science. While there is some evidence that certain nutrients may be altered or damaged in high heat (such as vitamin C, folate and certain phytonutrients), the category is filled with overhyped marketing claims that lack scientific merit. Remember, there’s no unique magic to fresh juice that can’t be had by eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

2. Juice lacks the fiber of whole fruits and vegetables. Juice can trigger a rapid rise in blood sugar (which helps account for the “buzz” many people feel after drinking a hefty amount of juice). This may cause blood sugar swings, and may make hunger return sooner. Eating the whole fruit and vegetable gives you nature’s whole fiber package.

3. Calorie counts are significantly higher. Although it varies, one 8-ounce cup of “vegetable” blend cold-pressed juice can contain about twice as many calories as a cup of raw veggies. This can quickly add up if you’re drinking all of your vegetables instead of eating them.

4. There’s a hefty price tag. At $8 to $12 a bottle, this trend has done for juice what the barista did for the cost of a cup of coffee. If you have a tight food budget, hitting the produce aisle of your local grocery store and stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables is a wiser strategy.