Is It Better To Drink Or Chew Your Calories?

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juice-cleanse Hypothetical: Let’s say one day you’re on the go (sort of like right now?), and you need a little something to hold you over before your late-dinner plans. With no salad joint in sight, you duck into a fresh juice place and order up some green concoction that contains the likes of kale, celery, spinach, parsley, romaine, and ginger. The million-dollar question: Are you getting the same nutrients and benefits of fruits and veggies when you slurp them down as when you crunch away?

Our thought: If babies can eat pureed carrots and still get all the vitamins and fiber and not a boatload of extra sugar and calories, why can't we? (Again, this is not a cleanse thing — just a green juice here and there to get some energy-boosting vitamins instead of picking up another latte or bag of Sour Patch Kids). Here, we've asked two health experts — one who advocates chewing and one who says slurp away — to tell us the pros and cons of how you consume your calories.

Photos: Lia Schryver, Anna-Alexia Basile
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The Chewing Campaigner
Lana Masor, M.S., R.Y.T., a nutritionist in New York City and founder of justfortodaynyc.com.

One word: Digestion. “It begins in your mouth when you chew and swallow,” says Masor. “Digestion involves mixing food with digestive juices, and the very first one in the process is saliva — which contains enzymes that speed up chemical reactions in the body.” The formula is simple: food + chewing = eating slowly + superb digestion. But that’s not all: “Studies have shown that just by taking the time to chew your food and eat slowly, you end up consuming fewer calories,” she says. “The reason being that it takes some time for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you’re full, so if you eat very quickly or in this case, drink (which takes no time at all), your brain doesn't have the chance to catch up, so you eat or drink past the point where you’re full.”

If eating for a healthy digestive tract doesn’t hit home for you, Masor has a second argument that’s, well, hard to argue with. Food should be enjoyed and savored. “Learning to get pleasure from eating a plate of greens versus drinking a cup of them will open your eyes to how delicious they are and how they can be prepared in so many different ways, from raw to grilled, sautéed, baked, and broiled,” she says. “Finding a way to eat slowly and paying attention to what you are eating is a way to promote mindful eating.”

Masor does add that “drinking a green juice is definitely a better option that a sugary drink and can be nice way to get some extra vitamins, but I do not believe that having a juice should be consumed as a meal replacement — if you are on the run and want a healthy beverage, absolutely go for a spinach and kale juice.”

Photographed by Janelle Jones
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The Drinking Defender
Lauren Slayton, M.S. R.D., a registered dietitian and director of Foodtrainers.com

Two words: Speed eater. Slayton 100% agrees that digestion is key to getting nutrients, but says that not all of us are doing it as slowly or as effectively as we should be. “Both your teeth and saliva start the digestion process in your mouth,” she says. “But speed eaters tend to chew their food less and, therefore, end up not getting the maximum nutrients from their food.” (It could also be the reason you feel super-bloated after a meal.) The obvious upside to liquefying veggies: No chewing required! (The only exception to this would be if you suck it down through a Slurpee-style straw, so whenever possible, drink from a glass or take off the lid, suggests Slayton).

Drinking your fruits and veggies can help you truly reach the four to five servings per day goal. And according to the USDA’s site, “Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the vegetable group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed.” Even a registered dietitian needs a little help. “I cover a gigantic cutting board with vegetables for my morning juice, and it would take me hours to eat all of that,” says Slayton. “You’d have to eat approximately nine cups of kale to get the same potassium, calcium, and iron in two cups of kale juice.” Although it could be true that sipping your greens could be best for our hypothetical, an on-the-run-snack or morning treat, not a way to get your only daily dose: “In juice form, beets delay feeling of fatigue during exercise,” says Slayton. “Overall, I’d say juice is better for a quick-energy boost than raw veggies.”

But how does the liquid form compare to, say, a salad in nutritional value? “From a vitamin perspective, vegetables require us to ‘unwrap’ their contents — and juice doesn’t play hard to get,” says Slayton. The other potential downside to drinking your greens is the F word. “While pureeing retains fiber, it requires less complicated digestion,” says Slayton. Especially, the prepackaged, not-blended-right-in-front-of-you kind. “Any processed juice will decrease the amount of time and energy your body needs to break that food down, or like I said earlier, ‘unwrap’ the nutrients,” says Slayton, who adds that going organic when choosing your fruits and veggies is also important to lessen exposure to unwanted pesticides.

“I think of it like a spinning bike,” says Slayton. “Juicing is like riding with little resistance (fiber), so you can go a lot faster, or in a juice's case, get your vitamins faster — so, eating, let’s say, my beloved Juice Generation Kale and Avocado Salad has a lot of resistance (fiber), so I have to ride way more slowly.”

Slayton does agree with one main aspect of the pro-chewing side: satiety. “The fiber in vegetables increases feelings of fullness — and there are two reasons fiber leads to fullness: One is the sheer volume in the GI tract. And two: the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin in the small intestine when fiber is ingested, which sends the brain the message we’re getting full,” she says. And she notes that just like with a plate full of salad, it’s not like a green juice is calorie free — it is still food. “On average, veggie juices with one fruit have about 150 calories per 16 oz., but a few cups of kale have less than 100 calories,” she says. If you love yourself a green juice, keep your habit down to one to two a day or simply when you’re in need of vitamin-charged pick-me-up.

Photographed by Christine Ting