Celery (and celery juice) enjoyed a stint of popularity recently as the latest nutritional fad. But does it deserve the hype?
Benefits of Celery
As a weight loss aid, whole celery is an excellent choice, as it takes more calories to digest than the food itself contains. This doesn’t take much, since there are only 7 calories per rib.
In addition to the caloric content (or lack thereof), celery is perhaps best known for its anti-hypertensive properties. This study was performed not with the food itself, but with a celery seed extract. Nevertheless, 75 mg twice daily for 6 weeks resulted in a significant decrease in blood pressure for participants. This is, however, one of few human studies performed with celery. Most others were performed on animals, as we will see below.
Beneficial antioxidants in celery called apigenin and luteolin have been shown to offer a variety of health benefits. This study shows that the antioxidant luteolin helps to reduce an allergic response in animals exposed to allergens. This makes sense, as allergies are an inflammatory response. Similarly, this study demonstrates apigenin’s ability to mitigate the inflammation of arthritis.
The anti-inflammatory benefits of luteolin also extend to cognition, as well: this study shows that it can protect against neurodegeneration, improving memory and learning, and this study specifically shows apigenin’s ability to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Luteolin has even been postulated as an anti-metastatic compound to prevent the spread of existing cancer cells.
This study also shows that celery extract (not the food itself) can be effective in animal models for lowering LDL cholesterol.
How Juicing Changes Celery’s Properties
But what about juicing, versus eating the food whole?
There are benefits and drawbacks to juicing in general. The primary benefit is that, stripped of the rest of the food, the micronutrients become far more bioavailable. This is because the body doesn’t have to do much to digest them—the effort has been done already.
The primary negative is that stripping the plant from its fiber source means 1) you lose the digestive benefits of the fiber (which can greatly help with constipation and IBS in some cases), and 2) the sugar hits the bloodstream all at once, rather than little by little as it is released from the rest of the macronutrients.
This isn’t a huge deal if you’re consuming pure celery juice, as an 8-ounce serving contains only about 70 calories and 11 grams of sugar. But the flavor of celery juice is rather bitter and salty, so most of the time it’s mixed with other juices to render it more palatable. This significantly increases the sugar content (and in general I’m not an enormous fan of fruit juices, because they do deliver such a sugar punch!)
On the up side with celery in particular, though, one is far more likely to consume the contents of the leaves in juice format than in eating it straight. And the leaves are where the bulk of the antioxidants can be found.
Is celery good for you? Yes, undoubtedly!
Is it better to eat it, or juice it? Depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If sugar and fiber are less an issue for you and you’re just trying to get quick nutrition, then juicing works great.
If you’re trying to lose weight, and you’re subbing celery juice for a soda, then it’s still a huge net positive.
But all else being equal, if you’re just trying to lose weight and it’s between the celery itself or the juice, I’d go with the whole food.