Why Buy a Juicer?
The first thing to consider is why you want to juice in the first place. Do you not meet the recommended dietary requirements for fruits and vegetables? Are you looking for the occasional cleanse? Do you just happen to love juice or dislike eating whole produce? Whatever the reason, it's important to identify it, and do some research on that aspect, so that you know what you are getting into and why. It's easy to get caught up in the latest health trends without fully examining or even understanding their meaning. How many "gluten-free" people out there do you reckon don't even know what "gluten" is? The popularity of juicing has risen in the last several years thanks in part to the documentary Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, with promises of weight loss and as a cure-all for many diseases. There's no question that the typical American diet could use a lot more fruits and vegetables in it and juice is one way to load up on those vitamins and nutrients. You might be able to achieve the same purpose by simply eating more whole fruits and vegetables as well. But there's no denying that a tall glass of freshly-made juice is delicious and much better for you than some artificial beverage full of compounds you can't pronounce, so if you are aiming for a healthy lifestyle, juicing can be an integral component to that.
Juicing & Nutrition
For some, juicing is a fun and different way to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets. For others, juicing is more about maximizing nutrient intake. With limited time or abilities, getting your recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables from one glass of juice is enticing, as well as tasty. The nutritional value of a glass of juice will change a lot depending on the ingredients, as will the caloric value. Green juices (spinach, kale, celery, cucumber, parsley, wheat grass, etc.) with little or no fruit can be as low as 80 calories for a 16 oz serving and deliver a quarter of your daily iron and calcium intake. One of our favorite recipes, a carrot, beet, spinach, and orange combo, has around 130 calories and 80% of your daily iron requirements, along with 110% for Vitamin C and 280% for Vitamin A. Some juices can top 250 calories a glass if there are too many fruits in it, so if you are watching your calorie count then focus more on vegetables, particularly green ones and add only a few carrots or one piece of fruit to sweeten the mix.
While some of the models we reviewed did come with recipe books, very few had any nutritional information on those recipes. If you want to research the calorie and vitamin content of your juice, this Juice Recipe Builder allows you to input your ingredients and does all the math for you. If you are looking for a great recipe book with lots of information on juicing, alkaline foods and cleansing, the Juice: Recipes for Juicing, Cleansing, and Living Well by the founders of the California-based Pressed Juicery chain is a good way to go.
Many people come to juicing hoping for weight loss or a relief from disease symptoms. While we can't speak to that, Joe Cross of Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead fame has a Reboot with Joe website with loads of information on juicing for weight loss and juice fasts. They even lead guided juice fasts that you sign up and pay for, which might not be a bad idea, as you often stick to something more when you pay for it than when just on your own. Case in point, during our testing process, we had grand visions of a week-long juice fast; one of our testers did drink nothing but juice for three days (with a few pieces of fruit along the way), but another lasted all of six hours!
One thing we can recommend for certain is that to maximize nutritional benefits - and for food safety reasons verified by the FDA - always drink fresh juice right away; don't save it for later use. Leftover juice can harbor harmful bacteria and other microbes. For this reason, it's also important to practice good sanitation when juicing; be sure to wash hands and produce, and keep your work surfaces and juicer clean.
Juicing vs. Blending
There is a hot debate going on in the fruit and vegetable drinks world at the moment: Is juicing or blending your produce is better for you? When juicing, about 75% of the pulp - i.e. fiber - is removed from the produce. Blending, on the other hand, whips everything up together so that no fiber is lost. There's no question that fiber is an important part of your diet, with recommended daily intakes of at least 25-30 grams, if not more. The average American consumes only about 14 grams per day, or half of what they should be getting, and clearly, that is a problem. This makes it easy to assume that blending must be superior to juicing.
Not so fast! The product development team at Breville has done numerous studies to debunk some of the popular myths out there on its Juicing Science website. While they are a top centrifugal and masticating juicer manufacturer, they also make a blender line as well, so one would think that they can perform their research in a "slightly neutral" stance. If their research shows that juicing is a farce, they'll just sell more blenders.
The interesting thing they found, however, is that from a nutrient perspective, juicing far outperforms blending. When they juiced and blended (for 60 seconds) the same recipe, the juice had much higher concentrations Vitamin C (142%), Alpha Carotene (73%), Beta Carotene (109%), and Potassium (54%), though the smoothie had slightly higher levels of Calcium. This is due to the volatility of vitamins and minerals, and 60 seconds in a blender purportedly causes enough oxidation to damage those nutrients.
Getting back to fiber for a minute, it is true that blended drinks will have more, and if you are concerned about your fiber intake, green smoothies might be the way to go. But consider for a moment just how much fiber you will be consuming, or missing, from a juice versus a smoothie. In our Carrot Yield tests, we juiced 1 lb of carrots and got around 8 oz of juice from the higher end centrifugal models. 1 lb of carrots has roughly 12.5 grams of fiber, so you will only get around 3 grams of that in your juice, and lose out on the other 9 grams. However, look at the picture above. Would you really eat that many raw carrots? Would you blend up this many carrots and drink them? Not likely. Same goes with our kale tests - the 8 ounces of kale and 3.4 grams of fiber in it turns into roughly 4 ounces of juice and very little fiber - but you'd be hard-pressed to eat or blend that much. So juicing affords you a way to get a maximum amount of nutrients from an otherwise un-eatable amount of food. And finally, there are plenty of other ways to get your fiber intake. Half a cup of almonds has 8.5 grams of fiber, and 1 cup of black beans has 15 grams, so a bean burrito for lunch or a handful of nuts as a snack will go much further towards meeting your daily fiber requirements than a green smoothie will.
Centrifugal vs. Masticating
If you thought the blending vs. juicing war was bad, the fighting over the different types of juicers is even more extreme. The main battle is whether the spinning disk in a centrifugal model generates enough heat to destroy the vitamins and minerals in your juice. In a masticating model, a spinning auger slowly crushes the produce with typically only 80 revolutions per minute. A centrifugal juicer's disc will spin up to 13,000 times a minute! Manufacturers that make only masticating juicers will claim that the slower speed preserves the nutrients better. We've already seen that blending for 60 seconds does indeed oxidize and destroy vitamins, so could this be an issue with the centrifugal model's high extraction speeds as well?
Thankfully, the Juicing Science folks tried to solve this dispute also. While they found that there were differences between the vitamin extraction of the two different types of juicers, they were highly variable, and in the end, not significant. For example, when juicing spinach, more iron is extracted from a centrifugal model, but a masticator will get more iron out of carrots, celery, and tomatoes. A masticator will get more B1 vitamins from spinach, but the centrifugal can extract more B1 from carrots, apples and tomatoes. Confused yet? When they averaged all of the percentages of vitamins and minerals extracted from different foods, they found that masticating juicers retained 83% of nutrients compared to the whole fruit, and centrifugal juicers were virtually identical with 82% retained.
As for the matter of a centrifugal model's disc heating up the juice and destroying nutrients that way, that's also been tested. Because the produce spends less than one second in the disc, very little heat is transferred to the juice, we're talking one to two degrees Celsius. We did our own mini-experiment, taking our veggies and fruits straight from the fridge and into the centrifugal juicer with less than one minute lag time. Our fridge is set at 48 F, and the juice was 52 F immediately upon juicing, around a 2 C difference, and that's keeping in mind that the air temperature was 70 F. So we can assume that this is not a significant issue either.
So, when shopping for a juicer, no matter what the type, keep in mind that marketing hype is very prevalent in the juicing industry. Don't believe everything the manufacturers tout and at the end of the day, it's probably all good for you no matter what type of model you are using.
Determining Your Needs
Once you've decided that juicing is the way you want to go and you've waded through all the propaganda, you'll want to consider the different types of machines on the market. There are several key factors you should consider when determining which model to purchase: how often you plan to juice, why and what you're juicing, budget, and storage space. Below, we break down these factors, to help you better identify what model will best fit your needs.
How often do you think you'll use your juicer? This will factor into how much money you spend on a machine and other considerations like its design and weight. If you are new to juicing and not sure how much you'll even use this appliance, then you probably shouldn't go and spend hundreds of dollars on one. Our Best Buy award winner is less than a $100, delivers great quality juice, and won't break the bank. If you know you will be juicing very frequently, then you'd be better off investing up front for a high-end machine like the Multi-Speed. It comes with a three-year warranty, quality components, and great performance.
What Do You Plan to Juice?
There are very few fruits and vegetables out there that you cannot juice, so really, the produce aisle is game-on for you and juicing. Some people prefer certain types of juice over others, however. You might have grand visions of juicing kale and parsley and cleansing your body, only to find that those juices are actually unpalatable to you. It is important to have a rough sense as to what types of produce you will be juicing most though, as this will directly impact your buying decisions.
For example, if you only plan to juice citrus fruits, then a dedicated citrus machine is the way to go.
In our yield testing, we determined that masticating models do a better job at extracting the maximum amount of juice from leafy greens like spinach and kale, so if your focus is on juicing greens then you'd do better with one of those types of models. On the other hand, if you are a carrot and apple juice person, then a centrifugal model does a better job with harder fruits and veggies. The high-speed, powerful motor makes short work of hard roots, as well as softer fruits and veggies.
If you plan on juicing a bit of everything, then you'll probably want to go with a centrifugal model, particularly if you are pressed for time. These types of products make a great glass of juice - and they make it quickly! Very little prep is required and these products usually have the option to regulate their speed for even more precise control.
If you want a versatile machine that can do more than just juice, you will want to take a closer look at a masticating model. Some of these products not only make great glasses of juice, but they can also make smoothies, frozen sorbet, nut butter and milk — even baby food. These appliances are like having your cake and eating it too. However, you'll pay for the extra bells and whistles, as these products can retail for close to $300 with all of their extra features and functions. You'll also want to be careful, as not all masticating models have the extra capabilities.
For many, this is a crucial factor. You need to weigh frequency of juicing against the durability of the product and how much it costs. If you want to juice daily, a super-budget model probably isn't going to hold up for very long. Some of the cheapest models produced a burning smell during our tests and promptly started leaking, causing them to be cut from the review. So, even if you are on a very tight budget, we recommend investing slightly in either our Best Buy award winner or potentially forgoing getting a juicer in the first place, as you are essentially wasting your money buying an extremely inexpensive model that will most likely wear out and fail rapidly. If money is no object, that doesn't mean the most expensive juicer is the best though, as some relatively expensive models scored quite poorly in our tests.
The easiest reminder to make some juice is to leave your appliance out on the countertop. This is not always possible due to limited countertop space or the other 10 appliances you might have. This does create a bit of a conundrum: if an appliance is too bulky, you might not want to leave it out, but you might not want to be pulling it in and out of storage either. When selecting a model, take your kitchen layout (including electrical outlets and prep areas) into account and think about where you'll be using it and where you'll store it. Measure dimensions, so you can compare them to product specs and figure out where everything will go.
Then get it out and start juicing!