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Juice people (aka: “juicers”) have a reputation for being rather evangelical about promoting the benefits of drinking, rather than eating, one’s fresh fruits and vegetables.

Since juice contains most of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients found in whole produce — minus all the bulky fiber that has to be digested — the theory is that juice gives the digestive system a rest and allows the body to better absorb nutrients.

Believers swear that juicing optimizes energy and mental acuity, boosts the immune system, increases longevity, promotes weight loss, detoxes the body, aids digestion, clears up bad skin, banishes migraines and even helps fight cancer.

That’s a pretty tall order, to be sure. But despite the recent cult-like popularity of home juicing and juice fasts for cleansing, juicing is a lot more than just a fashionable diet fad or New Age snake oil. Humans have long recognized that fruit and vegetable juices have unique healing and restorative properties, and juicing is one of the oldest dietary practices known to humankind.

All the way back in 1700 B.C., the ancient Greeks spoke about pomegranate juice as being a “love potion.” Some 1500 years later, the Dead Sea Scrolls extolled the virtues of “a pounded mash of pomegranate and fig” resulting in “profound strength and subtle form.” The Ayurvedic system of medicine in ancient India was of like mind, with 5th century writings that referred to consuming “juices for medicinal purposes.”

Flash forward 16 centuries and you have recent scientific studies that show pomegranate juice improves blood flow to the heart in people with coronary artery disease; that beet juice lowers blood pressure and can boost athletic performance; and that concord grape juice supports healthy brain function in older adults with early memory decline, among other findings.

Modern science is just now beginning to quantify many centuries worth of anecdotal evidence for the benefits of juicing. For the record, though, the Mayo Clinic says that there’s no sound scientific evidence that extracted juices are healthier than what you get by eating whole fruits or vegetables.

“On the other hand,” the Mayo gurus concede, “if you don’t enjoy eating fresh fruits and vegetables, juicing may be a fun way to add them to your diet or to try fruits and vegetables you normally wouldn’t eat.”

So if you don’t like kale or parsley, for example, drinking their juices is an excellent way to add those nutrient-rich foods to your diet. It’s also a great way for those of us who do love fresh produce to get more raw foods into our diets – and a smart way to use up distressed produce that would otherwise go to the compost bin (something we’re always working on around here!)

It may very well be that a tall glass of fresh juice is a powerful elixir that will do wonders for your body, but health claims aside, the truth is that it’s a lot easier to drink four carrots, three celery sticks, two leaves of kale and an apple than it is to sit down and eat them.