It’s hard to remember a time before juice shots. Touted to boost immunity, clear your mind, cleanse your gut, and so much more, these vibrant little bitty bottles of juice have become a staple of healthy eating culture.
But their famously expensive price tags and questionable scientific backing make many people wonder if these concentrated bursts of micronutrients actually have an impact on health — or if they’re just another modern-day snake oil.
With the help of nutrition experts, we got the lowdown. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s a juice shot?
Juice shots, also called wellness shots, generally contain about an ounce of blended cold-pressed juice (often citrus or apple). Their formulations vary but generally they also include ingredients linked to specific health benefits, such as cayenne, turmeric, ginger, honey, and lemon.
Powerful, potent, efficacious — these are words you’ll often find written on the sides of juice shot bottles. But the truth is, turning whole fruits, veggies, and herbs into juice doesn’t imbue them with magical powers. (In fact, stripping away their fiber actually makes them less nutritious, but more on that later.)
It’s true that fresh juice contains essential nutrients your body needs but the concentrations generally aren’t high enough — especially in one-off doses — to treat conditions the way supplementation and medicine does.
“Instead of thinking of it as a cure, think of it as a boost,” says naturopath Dr. Jordin Wiggins, ND.
They can’t replace COVID-safe practices
There’s some evidence that supplementing with vitamin D and vitamin C might be able to strengthen our immune systems and defend against COVID-19.
But if you’ve ramped up your vitamin game recently, don’t let it give you a false sense of security. Your best bet for preventing the spread of COVID-19 is to follow the CDC guidelines.
Be wary of cleansing and detoxing claims
These are two of the buzziest buzz words in the juice biz. So it’s important to note there isn’t any research to date that shows drinking fresh juice can cleanse or detox the body.
It also isn’t clear, from a medical perspective, if taking measures to cleanse and detox is even necessary for good health. While it’s true that toxins and heavy metals do build up in your fat and tissue, your body has a built-in detoxification system in the form of your kidneys and liver.
It should be said that a lack of research doesn’t mean something isn’t true. But for many of us, it’s hard to justify a $7 ounce of juice without proper proof.
Totally! Even though wellness shots can’t be used in place of medicine that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Adding a wellness shot to your daily routine can help you get your daily recommendation of vitamins and nutrients, which your body needs to function.
Especially if you’re in a busy phase of your life, a portable juice shot could be a convenient way to get some of your nutrients.
“Juicing, and in particular juice shots, can be a quick and valuable way to get the benefit from fruits and vegetables,” says functional medicine physician Dr. Scott Jamison, MD, IFMCP.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of wellness shots.
Make them part of your daily routine
Downing a juice shot once in a while when you pass a juice bar isn’t going to do much for you besides make your tongue tingle. “The real benefit occurs through the regular use of juicing and juice shots,” Jamison says.
How regular is regular? Generally speaking, research on nutrient intake is done over a period of weeks or months.
For example, one study on daily juice intake for improved vaccination effectiveness saw results after 16 weeks. In another, it took 14 weeks of drinking juice daily for participants’ blood levels to show an increase in beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and folate.
Pack in all the nutrients you can
And the second important factor to keep in mind is that it takes a lot of nutrients to accomplish many of the health benefits cited by enthusiasts.
One example: vitamin C for the common cold. Although inconclusive, trials have found that, in some people, mega doses of vitamin C may help reduce frequency and/or symptoms of the common cold.
But we’re talking very high doses: At least 2 grams (and some research suggests up to 8 grams), according to Wiggins.
For comparison, most juice shots tailored to boost immunity with vitamin C only reach the 1 gram range — and many provide even less than this, at around 0.3 grams. So in order to hit that 2 gram mark, you’ll need two very potent juice shots a day.
If you’re making your shots at home, you can get an idea of your juice’s nutrient content by checking out the USDA’s nutrition info on raw fruits and vegetables.
Don’t take more than 2 grams of vitamin C a day
Getting enough vitamin C is critical for immunity and general health, but it’s important not to overdo it. High doses of over 2 grams per day can cause upset stomach or diarrhea.
Plus, after your body reaches its max absorption of vitamin C, going above and beyond won’t do you much good. Excess vitamin C simply gets excreted through your urine.
Drink juice without added sugar
According to Wiggins, the main drawback to wellness shots is they often have added sweeteners, sometimes in the range of dozens of grams.
Too much added sugar can suppresses immune function and promotes inflammation, she says.
While, ounce for ounce, you can sometimes take in more concentrated nutrients from a juice than from a whole fruits and veggies, the juicing process has a serious drawbacks: it gets rid of all the fiber.
Eating fiber promotes a healthy microbiome (aka the beneficial bacteria in your gut) which has been linked to all sorts of health outcomes, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. Not to mention, it gives your bathroom business a serious boost.
“[Wellness shots are] never going to be better than eating your greens and drinking your water on a regular basis,” says Wiggins.
Eating whole produce is also just more filling. Some studies have found that chewing actually helps us feel more full. According to a 2015 review, the more people chewed their food, the more likely they were to report decreased hunger.
“My philosophy is, ‘If you have teeth and a small intestine, let your body do the digestion.’ I believe in chewing food over drinking juice,” says Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD.
Meanwhile, some juice shots may have another, not-so-pleasant effect on your gut. Jamison adds that certain ingredients in juice shots may irritate your GI tract.
“[There can be] occasional impact on bowel function or burning in the upper stomach” from ingredients like cayenne pepper, he says.
If you find an uber-spicy shot makes your esophagus burn with the fire of a thousand suns or sends you running to the bathroom, it’s probably best to steer clear.
Go easy on the apple cider vinegar
According to Jamison, this common juice shot ingredient can have some undesirable effects. “Regular use can cause dental issues, and at very high doses for prolonged periods of time can impact kidney function, electrolytes and, in [one older case study], bone health.”
Instead of looking to these juice shots to tackle health issues, say experts, it’s smart to focus on a good old-fashioned healthy diet. (Yeah, we know. Boooooring — but true!)
“Do you enjoy a juice shot? Then enjoy it for what it is,” says Wiggins. “But don’t be fooled into thinking juice shots are a replacement for the correct supplementation, exercise, and food that keeps you healthy.”
As for individual benefits like improving digestion or boosting immunity, Andrews agrees that your overall eating pattern, not the occasional high-nutrient juice, is more likely to make a difference.
“A person can get these health benefits from eating a variety of plant-based foods containing fiber, getting adequate sleep, avoiding sick people, and doing regular exercise,” says Andrews.
Our final word on wellness shots: drink them if you love ’em (and can afford ’em) but keep doing all the other things your body needs to stay healthy, too.
Sarah Garone is a nutritionist, freelance writer, and food blogger. Find her sharing down-to-earth nutrition info at A Love Letter to Food or follow her on Twitter.