Ah, the mysteries surrounding freshly squeezed juice. It’s only for health fanatics. It’s only for Californians. It’s a giant hassle. But the truth is, with the right equipment and ingredients, juicing is easy, delicious, and a great way to up your intake of those all-important nutrients found in fresh produce. Repeat this mantra: I will not be afraid of the juicer ….

Nutrition in a glass
You already know that fruits and vegetables are good for you—and that most of us don’t get enough of them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1996 and 2000 fewer than 25 percent of Americans ate (or drank) the recommended minimum of five fruits and vegetables a day, let alone the new optimal recommendation of nine per day. Even worse: 96 percent of kids ages 2 to 12 don’t meet the five-a-day target.

That’s where juicing comes in. “Drinking fresh fruit and vegetable juices is an excellent way to supply key nutrients and phytochemicals to the body in a fresh, raw, and natural way,” says Michael Murray, ND, author of The Complete Book of Juicing (Prima, 1992) and coauthor of the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Prima, 1998). Juicing boosts the nutrients needed to reduce risks not only for cancer but also heart disease and strokes, Murray says.

For nutrient absorption, drinking freshly squeezed juice may be even more effective than eating a whole fruit or vegetable. According to Murray, “the carotenes lycopene and lutein are better absorbed from juice—for example, tomato and carrot juice, respectively—than from the whole food.” Fresh juice also contains enzymes your body needs for optimal performance and healing. By removing the fiber, you’re able to digest many more of these powerful phytochemicals than you would otherwise. (Just remember to keep eating fiber from whole grains—and even more fruit!)

For active types, “juicing is a great way to get a natural source of complex- carbohydrate calories,” says Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, sports nutritionist at the University of Miami athletic department and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “It’s the original sports beverage, rich in fluids, vitamins, and electrolytes.”

Fresh, frozen, or canned?
When fresh isn’t available, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are a great option for juicing. In fact, when you can’t get local fruits or vegetables, frozen or canned may be more nutritious than something that’s been transported across the country. Fresh green beans lose as much as 40 percent of their vitamin C content within 24 hours after harvest; corn loses a similar amount after 8 days, broccoli at 14 days, and carrots at 21 days. So, if you just have to have mango juice in North Dakota in February, go with the frozen.

—B.E.

How to juice
Now that your have-no-fear mantra has set in, it’s time to buy a juicer; they range from simple and inexpensive to high-tech (see “Juicy Juicers,” below). Then, buy the freshest organic fruits and vegetables you can find, wash well, and let your imagination be your guide. If the item’s skin is thin—think apples, eggplant, carrots—just pop the whole thing into the juicer. You may decide to peel thicker-skinned fruits, but then again, you may not (oranges, however, are best peeled to avoid the bitter pith). The machine’s job is to separate the juice from everything else.

Good-quality, grind-style juicers that use sharp, fast-moving blades and filter baskets will spit out fewer large chunks. Auger-style juicers that mash the juice from the fruit will crush everything but will have more difficulty with very fibrous produce such as pineapples.

Carrots are an easy way to start. When carrots are very fresh, just rinse; there’s no need to trim stems or tips, and they fit in almost any juicer as they are. Carrot juice is delicious on its own, and it makes a great addition to other nutritious but less sweet vegetable combinations, such as celery and spinach.

Start small and drink up
Even if you’re enthusiastic, juicing a 5-pound bag of carrots all at once may be overdoing it. Fresh is absolutely best, nutritionally, because juices tend to “break down” with time. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the vitamin C content of store-bought orange juice can drop from 46 mg per cup to 0 mg within four weeks after opening (2002, vol. 102, no. 4). That juice you just squeezed hasn’t been pasteurized, so you need to drink it even more quickly.

You’ll get an 8-ounce serving of apple juice from about three large apples; a cup of carrot juice will take a dozen smallish carrots, give or take a few. Start there and continue experimenting with portions. If you have leftover juice, refrigerate and drink it the next day. And if you love juice but need to watch your calories, mix sweet fruit juices with lower-calorie vegetable juices, or dilute with mineral water—you’ll still get stellar taste and nutrients, minus the high calorie count.

Even with its nutritional benefits, the real reason to try juicing is the simplest of all: taste. As anyone who’s tried truly fresh juice will tell you, the flavor is incomparable. So here’s your new mantra: Fresh juice is incredibly good for me, and the taste is mind-blowing.