Juicing for Cancer

Juicing for Cancer

There are several cancer cures and diets that promote juicing for cancer. This blog will explore those claims and the published research on this topic. 

This blog does not substitute for medical advice or as a nutrition assessment from a registered dietitian. You can read the post from top to bottom, or navigate using this Table of Contents

Bottles of juice with straws and fruit
There are lots of claims about the benefits of juicing for cancer…but do the claims stand up to scrutiny? Image by silviarita from Pixabay

What’s The Hype About Juicing for Cancer? 

Eating more fruit and vegetables is linked to lowered risk factors for many chronic diseases. This includes cardiovascular disease, a variety of different cancers and overall age degeneration (Khaksar, 2019). 

Many active nutrients are found in pure fruit juice made without any added sweeteners. A lot of these nutrients have been studied in the prevention of cancer. They include antioxidants, soluble fibre (if the pulp is present) and phytochemicals; the exact ones are dependent on which fruits and vegetables are used (Ruxton, 2009).

While making juice is a little more work than just eating a piece of fruit, it can be a convenient way to get vegetables into your diet and save time and energy with prepping and cooking vegetables, especially if you have neuropathy in your hands, which is common with certain cancers (read more about preventing neuropathy during chemo). Pure juice can also be easier to tolerate and taste better during cancer treatment, especially for the elderly or children (Wern, 2016). 

Juicing for Cancer Benefits 

There are several important cancer fighting nutrients in fruits and vegetables. These include flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamins and minerals.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are plant pigments responsible for the colour, flavour and pharmaceutical effect of fruits, vegetables, green tea, cocoa and other flowering plants. 

The main source of flavonoids in our diet are fruits and vegetables, red wine, green tea and cocoa and since we are not capable of making these important compounds in our diet, we need to consume fruits and vegetables regularly. 

Flavonoids are health promoting due to their antioxidant properties and vitamin and enzyme protection. They are considered to be protective against cancer. In laboratory research where cancer cells are treated with flavonoids, there is a variety of cancer-fighting effects, including anti-inflammatory benefits and apoptosis – causing the cancer cell to die off.(Kopustinskienne, 2020). 

Apoptosis is programmed cell death. All cells have a limited lifespan, some have a short lifespan, like skin cells and some have long lifespans like brain cells. But cancer cells refuse to listen to this programming and grow uncontrollably. The flavonoids in our food have been shown to force the cancer cells into apoptosis (Kopustinskienne, 2020). 

Flavonoids In Our Food 

The quantity of flavonoids in food depends on the type of fruit or vegetable, the environment they are grown, light exposure, ripeness, after harvest storage and processing and its important to note that flavonoids are heat sensitive (Yao,2004).

Flavonoids are not one single compound, they are a group of different compounds with different food sources. This table highlights the specific flavonoid subgroup compound and the food source;

Flavonoid Subgroup  Food Sources
Flavanones  citrus, cumin and peppermint 
Flavones parsley and thyme
Flavanonols  lemon
Isoflavones  legumes and soy
Flavonols onions, berries, kale and red wine
Flavanols apples, tea and beer

(Yao,2004)

Carotenoids

Carotenoids fall into the category of phytochemicals. There are several carotenoids and three common ones that you may know are beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene.  Carotenoids are found in fruit and vegetables that are red, orange, yellow and green in colour. 

  • Beta-carotene: found in carrots, mango, papaya, sweet potato, squash and peppers (all types). 
  • Lutein: found in spinach, kale, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. 
  • Lycopene: found in tomatoes, apricots, watermelon and pink grapefruit. 

Carotenoids are antioxidants and have a strong anti-inflammatory ability, and have the ability to capture free radicals which can damage cells. 

Vitamins and Minerals 

Fruit and vegetables have a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Certain ones found in fruit and vegetables include vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium (Salvin,2012). 

  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant. Sources include; red and orange fruit and vegetables such as red pepper, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries and mango. Some green vegetables are also high in vitamin C like green pepper, kiwi and broccoli. Vitamin C helps to absorb iron and promotes wound healing (Unlock Food, 2019).
  • Vitamin E: Vitamin E is also an antioxidant. It helps to build a strong immune system and protects against cell damage. Sources of vitamin E are avocado, seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin, spinach and swiss chard (Unlock Food, 2020). 
  • Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral important for heart health and maintaining good blood pressure. Sources of magnesium include seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower and green leafy vegetables (Unlock Food, 2019) 
  • Potassium: Potassium is an important mineral for your body’s nerves, muscles and day-to-day functions. Sources of potassium include bananas, papaya, tomatoes and avocado (Unlock Food, 2019) 

Homemade versus Store Bought Juice…What’s The Difference? 

It is believed that commercially produced juices have worse nutrient quality than homemade juices. This is due to the added production steps including filtration, clarification and pasteurization. 

In reality, many things need to be considered when comparing homemade versus commercially made juices. When looking at the antioxidant and phenolic content of juices the type of fruit or vegetable used can change results. 

In a study comparing the nutrition quality of different juices the results were surprising. For example, when comparing apple, orange and pineapple juice that has been commercially made versus homemade, no significant differences were found.

But when comparing pomegranate and grape juice, the commercial juices actually had higher antioxidant and phenol levels (Wern, 2016). 

Another thing that can affect the quality of the product is the overall amount of pure juice present. Words such as, ‘from concentrate’ or ‘fruit drink’ signify low pure juice quantities and have lower amounts of antioxidants and phenols. 

Some commercial juices are also enhanced with added nutrients. The locations where the fruit or vegetable was grown and if it was harvested when ripe, after harvest storage and a selection of the fruit and vegetable also makes a huge difference (Wern,2016). 

Different Types of Juicers and Their Claims 

There is not just one type of juice machine, there are several and juicing proponents can get very opinionated about which one is best. Here is a run-down of the various types of juicers and their pros and cons.

  • Centrifugal:  Is the most popular type of juicer. It works by using fast spinning blades to chop the fruit and/or vegetable separating the juice from the pulp.
    • Pros: non-expensive, easy to clean and good for beginners.
    • Cons: Noisy, lots of foam, juice oxidizes fast, can’t be stored in the fridge or will separate and not good for leafy vegetables. 
  • Masticating: Also known as cold press, single-gear or slow juicer. Works by breaking down the fruit and vegetables to a fine pulp. Operates at a slower speed than the centrifugal.
    • Pros: better nutrient retention, quieter, can be stored in the fridge for 24hours, good for leafy vegetables.
    • Cons: heavy and expensive.
  • Triturating: Also known as twin gear juicer. Works by pounding, crushing and grounding the produce. Operates at a slower speed than the centrifugal.
    • Pros: nutrient retention, better quality, can be stored in the fridge for up to 36 hours, quiet and is good for leafy vegetables.
    • Cons: Not good for harder vegetables like carrots, very expensive and very heavy. 
  • Manual: Your average at home manual juicer.
    • Pros: not expensive, silent, easy to clean, no moving part, good for citrus.
    • Cons: limited uses, requires physical strength. 
  • Hydraulic Press: Uses pressure to press the juice out of the produce.
    • Pros: Good quality juice, limited air content therefore will last longer in the fridge.
    • Cons: Difficult to clean, time consuming and expensive. 
  • Steam: Typically used to preserve fruit (berries) and their juices. Uses heat to draw out the juice.
    • Pros: The juice will last a long time at room temperature and good for preserving.
    • Cons: Limited uses and very high temperatures (Homestratosphere, 2021).

Cold Press Juicer Vs. Centrifugal 

Of the two most common juicer types, most consumers decisions come down to cold press versus centrifugal. Here is some insight into the research on these two juicers.

Cold Press Juicer:

This method has been marketed as being better for nutrient quality by many manufactures. Unfortunately, there isn’t much research to support this claim. In this method, minimal amounts of heat are produced, which is believed to be better for nutrient retention. This perceived benefit comes with a much higher price, but the question remains if it is worth it (Khaksar, 2019).

Centrifugal Juicer:

This is the traditional method of producing juices. The one downside to this method is the potential of heat generation by the fast rotating blades. The formation of heat could reduce the nutrients affecting the nutritional quality of the juice. 

Cold Press Juicer Vs. Centrifugal Research 

In a study analyzing the difference between centrifugal and cold press home juicers, the researchers did not find any differences between the two methods.

The produce studied included; carrot, guava, pineapple and dragon fruit juice. Nutrients analyzed were ascorbic acid, total phenolic content, total carotenoids and antioxidant capacity. 

The researchers saw that many things could impact the results. For example, when using a juicer at home the time of use is lower therefore less heat is generated. Another aspect to take into consideration is the make and model of the juicer and the speed at which the blade is rotating (Khaksar,2019). 

Half and orange on a manual juicer surrounded by orange halves
Juicers have come a long way since these little low cost manual juicers and can now cost thousands of dollars. Image by gate74 from Pixabay

Blending versus Juicing 

There has been a lot of debate about the benefits of blending versus juicing. Blending has been suggested to keep nutrients like fibre and vitamins better than juicing. But is this true? 

The edible part of the fruit or vegetable is called the aril which includes the fleshy part and the pulp. The skin of the fruit or vegetable is often tough and sometimes not edible although it does contain high amounts of polyphenols and flavonoids. 

Researchers in Korea investigated the benefits of blending versus juicing. They discovered that one method wasn’t truly better than the other because of different factors. The team did discover slight differences between certain fruits. For example, blending was better for pomegranate, citrus and persimmons. But apples and pears were better when juiced. As expected they confirmed that eating the skin increased the nutritional value considerably (Pyo,2014). 

What’s Better: Eating Whole Fruits and Vegetables or Juicing? 

Glasses of juice and slices of vegetables
Is it better to eat vegetables or drink their juice? Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

Over the past years, the average person is looking for convenience when it comes to healthy eating. Juices provide a large number of servings of whole fruits and vegetables. But what’s better: eating your fruits and vegetables or juicing? 

Juice usually has higher amounts of sugar per serving compared to whole foods. It also typically has no fibre or very low amounts of fibre depending how much pulp is removed. 

When drinking juice the peel has typically been taken off but when we eat whole fruits or vegetables this is not always the case. The peel actually increases nutrition in many cases. Levels of antioxidants are also higher in whole foods compared to juice. 

Overall, when we drink juice versus the whole fruit or vegetable our body metabolizes it in the same way but at different rates. For example, if you eat an apple versus a glass of apple juice you will stay fuller longer and will be more satisfied. Therefore as much as juice can be a good alternative, the whole fruit or vegetable is often the better choice (Crowe, 2013). 

Storage of Fresh Unpasteurized Juices 

Storage is an important part of food safety. The biggest factors when storing fresh unpasteurized juices are the temperature and time period. Bioactive compounds such as vitamin C, phenols and carotenoids can be destroyed over time. Not to mention bacteria can begin to grow which can affect your health if consumed. 

Researchers looked at storage methods for different unpasteurized juices at both room temperature and 4-degree Celsius (refrigerator temperature) (39.2 F). Storage in the refrigerator for 48 hours had no impact on the nutrient quality or microbial content.

When juices were analyzed over a period of 7 days in a refrigerator, nutritional value decreased. The overall cloudiness, a sign of the quality of the beverages increased with refrigerator storage. 

Storage at room temperature for 48 hours had big consequences on the overall nutrition.  Unpasteurized juice has no real recommendation as to how long it will keep. It is suggested by manufacturers to be drunk within 3-5 days but differences may exist across different juice types (Khaksar,2019).

Food Safety and Microbes 

The Food and Drug Administration (FAO), estimated in 2018 that approximately 45% of freshly grown produce is wasted. Many things can cause food contamination which can cause spoilage. These things include harvest methods, storage conditions, growing environment, agricultural water and bruised fruits and vegetables (Synder, 2018).

Things that can affect spoilage of the juice are; pH, oxidation, water content, available nutrients and  bacteria. The most important factors for juice are the pH and water content. Fruits and vegetables with a pH of 4.5 or lower are often protected against many microbes but not all microbes hate acidic environments, for exampl. E.coli or Salmonella can live in an acidic environment too. 

Signs of food spoilage are changes in cloudiness, off flavours, CO2 (gas) production, changes in colour and texture. When yeast is present you’ll notice that CO2 and alcohol are produced. Pectin found in many fruits is degraded and begins to ferment. Sometimes juices will go cloudy and clumpy.  Moulds often give off musty and stale scents as well as an off-setting flavour (Anja,2014).

Did you know that the higher demands for non-heat pasteurized juices such as cold-pressed juices have increased spoilage and waste? As a whole, non-heat pasteurization is a less sure way of avoiding bacteria as it goes bad quicker (Snyder,2018). 

From Farm to Table 

Public health organizations on a large scale have tried to hammer home the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. Increased consumption of fruit and vegetables has been shown to diminish cancer incidences by 50%. It has been recommended to eat both a larger quantity of fruit and vegetables as well as a larger variety (Vanamala,2017). 

Juicing To Fight Cancer 

One thing that a lot of cancer patients live through is the loss of control. Food can become a source of regaining that control.  There are several nutrition-based therapies that are promoted as cancer cures but often scientific evidence is not there to justify them. It’s important that if you are taking part in complementary therapy that you share this with your medical professionals (Brown, 2001).

Juice therapies have become very popular. Juice diets often say that they are immune-stimulating and detoxifying which scientifically is debated. It’s important to note that juices can have their place in a healthy balanced diet but should not be used as a single form of nutrition (Brown, 2001).

This chart summarizes two popular Juicing to Fight Cancer diets

 

Breuss Cure  Gerson Diet 
Description  A diet composed of tea, vegetable juice over the course of 42 days.  10 kg of fruit and veg a day (juiced). Very low or no fat and animal protein and daily coffee enemas.
Aim Starvation of the cancerous tumour. Adjust imbalance of potassium and sodium which is seen as the cause of cancer. 
Possible Complications Malnutrition, weight loss, refusal of modern treatment Death, sepsis, coma, hyponatremia (low sodium), hyperkalemia (high potassium) 
Evidence No evidence to support any benefits.  No evidence to support any benefits. 

(Huebner,2014)

Carrots and 2 glasses of carrot juice
Carrot juice is a big part of the Gerson protocol. Image by Couleur from Pixabay

My analysis of these are that, the risk outweighs the unproven benefits and this would be a high risk protocol, but of course, if you are considering it, it’s best to work with an oncology registered dietitian who can do a detailed nutrition assessment.

Safety of Juicing for Cancer Patients 

Patients undergoing cancer treatment or who have recently finished cancer treatment have suppressed immune systems. They therefore, need to be careful to avoid any form of foodborne illnesses that could make them very sick. As discussed previously unpasteurized juices are at a high risk of food-borne bacteria so juice may not be the best choice for you, if you are immunocompromised (Brown, 2001). 

Juice Guide: What’s In It For You? 

Here is a summary of some popular juice ingredients and their main nutritional benefits;

Apple: Apples are a good source of phytochemicals and antioxidants. They help to reduce cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma and certain types of cancer.  Did you know the most nutritious part of an apple is the peel? Therefore juicing your apples may not be the best way to get all the benefits (Boyer, 2004).

Beets: Beets and beet juice are a hot topic of research. They are rich in nitrates and contain betalains (bioactive pigment) which is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Beets have been studied as potential protection against oxidative stress and DNA damage. In their juice form beets retain more than 55% of their antioxidant capacity (Clifford,2015). 

two beets and 1 glass of beet root juice
Beets are rich in nitrates and contain betalains (bioactive pigment) which is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Carrot: Carrots are root vegetables rich in carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals. The strongest flavonoid found in carrots is falcarinol which is known for its anti-cancerous properties. Carrots are also a source of molybdenum which helps to absorb iron and metabolize fat and carbohydrates (Da Silva Dias,2014). 

Celery: The strongest level of nutrition in celery is actually found in the roots, leaves and seeds. Celery is high in vitamin C and can help reduce inflammation. Coumarins present in celery help to prevent free radical damage and enhance white blood cells. The most bioactive compound in celery is phthalides which in animal studies has proven to reduce tumour size (Sowbhagya,2014). 

Citrus: Citrus juice is one of the most popular forms of juice on the market. Citrus is rich in vitamins, minerals and active phytochemicals. Did you know that 8 oz of orange juice meets 100% of your daily needs of vitamin C? The primary flavonoids found in citrus are hesperidin and naringin (Rampersaud,2016). 

Oranges and glass of orange juice
Oranges are one of the most popular fruits for juice. Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

Kale: Kale is rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Like many cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, etc.), kale is rich in many bioactive compounds. Many sulphur-containing compounds present in kale and other cruciferous vegetables have chemotherapeutic properties. Kale is also rich in phytosterols which are cancer preventives and cardioprotective (Manchali,2012). 

Pineapple: Pineapple is rich in vitamin C and several minerals. Pineapple contains bromelain which is an enzyme that digests protein. Only small quantities of bromelain are present in the edible part of the fruit but larger quantities can be found in the stem. Pineapple is also known for its anti-inflammatory and digestive qualities (Hossain,2015). 

Pomegranate: Pomegranate has very strong antioxidant properties because of its hydrosoluble tannins. Pomegranates also contain multiple polyphenols and are rich in vitamin E, C and beta carotene. They are known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic and anti-proliferative properties.  Did you know that the seeds (often the part consumed) make up only 10% of the weight of a pomegranate (Sharma,2017)? 

3 glasses of juice raspberries, lemon, and parsley
Choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables is ideal. Image by silviarita from Pixabay

Sugar and Juice 

The consumption of sugary drinks has increased worldwide. Sugary drinks have been found to increase weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, increase hypertension and lower cardiac health.

The association between sugary drinks and cancer on the other hand is not well studied. Possible links to cancer development and sugary drinks include insulin resistance, caramel colouring and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. But what about fruit juice with natural sugar and cancer?

Juice and Cancer

Researchers did find any links between 100% fruit juice and cancer. More research is needed to confirm if fruit and vegetable juices are harmful, neutral or protective (Chazelas,2019). 

Juice and Diabetes

Fruit juice is often debated for being a factor increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is primarily due to low fibre, high glycemic index, calorie consumption and overall lack of satiation. Researchers discovered in 18 studies analyzed,  that polyphenols in juice can actually positively affect blood sugar and insulin metabolism.

It was seen in studies that consuming fruit juice didn’t increase fasting blood sugars and in some cases actually lowered fasting blood sugar. Some differences were noted with people already suffering from diabetes and/or had an increased body weight. It’s important to note that this group of people would already have metabolic abnormalities and insulin resistance (Murphy,2017).

Pros and Cons of Juicing 

There are many pros and cons to juicing as discussed in this article. One of the biggest benefits of juicing is increasing your intake of beneficial fruits and vegetables. Juices are easy and require no prep if buying them premade. Consuming juices could have added health benefits especially if you don’t typically eat enough fruits and vegetables. 

Cons to juicing include the time it takes to make it yourself at home. Food safety can be a big concern if you’re making it yourself or if you’re buying an unpasteurized product. You could also be missing out on important nutrients when you remove the skin. 

Regarding the juicing diets promoted as cancer therapies, unfortunately, they lack evidence and come with risks. 

Bottom line on Juicing for Cancer

Consuming more fruits and vegetables are an important part of an anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory diet. Like any food, choosing less processed is best, but it’s better to consume your fruits and vegetables then not, and if juicing allows you to do that, then I say Cheers!

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