How to Choose a Juicer

A centrifugal juicer will be fast, but also messy. PSD/Flickr

Fresh, raw juices are a huge food trend, and it's not hard to understand why: In the last decade the number of servings of fruits and veggies we are advised to eat for optimum health has gone up. The Harvard School for Public Health reports: "If you don’t count potatoes — which should be considered a starch rather than a vegetable — the average American gets a total of just three servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The latest dietary guidelines call for five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables a day (2 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups per day), depending on one’s caloric intake." Four to five cups of produce a day means you should be eating a big salad most days — a hearty serving (not just a couple slices of tomato and a limp leaf of iceberg lettuce) of veggies or fruit at two meals. If that sounds like a lot to you, you're not alone.

Fewer than 30 percent of us eat the recommended fresh fruit and vegetables most days, meaning that plenty of people have taken a look at their diets, compared them to the recommendations, and thrown up their hands in frustration.

So juicing your favorite fruits and veggies (or even those you don't really enjoy) is a much easier — and often tastier — way to get those servings in. And while consuming just the juice from produce is unlikely to be quite as good as eating four or five cups of fiber-rich veggies and fruits every day would be, you are still getting a real bang for your nutritional buck if you are juicing regularly. Nutritionist Jennifer Barr, RD, of Wilmington, Delaware, summed it up well to WebMD: "If you’re not big into fruits and vegetables, it's a good way to get them in."

If you went to your local fresh juice joint and realized eating (or drinking) healthfully might put a huge dent in your wallet — fresh juices run in the $7-$10 range in most metropolitan areas —you may have considered a home juicing machine. Or maybe you just live too far from anyone who's going to make fresh juice for you, or you prefer to know exactly what's in your food. Either way, there are various types of juicers out there for home use, and it pays to know what you need before you buy.

The different types of juicers

Centrifugal juicers (sometimes referred to as extractors, not juicers) have a spinning blade that acts directly on the produce they render into liquid; they are fast, but messy, as they leave behind a lot of wet pulp (i.e. wasted juice). If you are spending money on local, organic produce — and most juicers aim for that due to higher volumes of micronutrients and because organic usually tastes better — composting juice that's left behind in pulp means you're wasting money. Centrifugal juicers also typically have a number of parts that have to be cleaned right after use (a dishwasher won't be able to get all the pulp out of the parts), though the upside is that they can just be rinsed with water; no soap needed.

Some juice experts also say that the heat created by the spinning components of centrifugal juicers can "cook" the juice, killing beneficial enzymes in your fruits and veggies. Due to the very high speeds at which the blade spins, lots of air is introduced into the juice as it's made, leading to a frothier juice and, importantly, juice that needs to be consumed right away; once the fruit/veggie juice becomes oxygenated, it won't keep well, even in the fridge. Inexpensive centrifugal juicers can be found though, meaning they can be a great entry-level juicer.

Masticating juicers are much slower than centrifugal juicers, so if you're going to skip making a juice in the morning because it takes too long, this isn't the product for you. However, they do extract almost all the juice from the plant fibers (resulting in a "dry" pulp) and since no air is introduced into the juice as it's being made, it means you can make a big batch at once time and store it in the fridge. These types of juicers are sometimes called "cold press" because no heat is generated — since the motor moves more slowly, none of the juice is heated in any way. Masticating juicers are ideal for lettuces, kale, wheatgrass and other leafies, since almost no juice can be extracted from them with a centrifugal system. If you're into making green drinks, don't bother with a centrifugal juicer, go directly to a masticating type. Breville, Hamilton Beach and Omega are all well-known juicer brands for both types machines.

The biggest caveat with juicers is that you can't put a number of low-water fruits and veggies in them (avocados, bananas) and they also won't take oranges, lemons, limes or grapefruit, since citrus fruits have too much fiber in them to juice. The centrifugal juicer works best on high-water fruits and veggies like cucumbers, apples, celery and carrots.

But maybe you just need a good blender

In addition to the juicers mentioned above, there are also some high-end, very powerful blenders like Vitamix and Blendtec. The upside of using a blender over a juicer is that you can use whole fruits and greens of any type — including citrus — and you can also add dried fruit like dates and prunes, which are great natural sweeteners. These high-intensity blenders (think 2 horsepower, enough to run a lawnmower) are not the kind that you make mixed drinks with; they are totally capable of turning broccoli, kale or avocados alike into a smooth pulp. Obviously, you can then also add raw nuts, seeds, or nutmilks to make more of a smoothie since it's a blender, or you can stick to just fruits and veggies. With blenders, you are also getting all the fiber from the fruits and veggies (though it is easier to digest since it's broken up), plus the juice, and you can use it for everything you'd normally use a blender for too. Bonus: cleanup on both above-mentioned blenders is incredibly fast and easy.

Once you've figured out how and what kinds of fruits and veggies you want to consume, you can figure out which appliance is right for you — then it's a good idea to take a look around online and find out the best brands in that category. Don't forget, used units abound on eBay and Craigslist (and even Freecycle), so you can try juicing at a lower cost of entry if you are willing to take a small risk and buy a used unit.