Juice cleanses — temporary diets in which you drink only juice and stop eating solid food and toxic substances — have proven both popular and controversial. Celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Salma Hayek, Ashton Kutcher and Gwyneth Paltrow tout their effectiveness.
Dietitians and nutritionists, however, say people must be aware of the dangers as well as the lack of scientific evidence that cleanses are better for you than just simply eating nutritious, whole foods.
Before starting a juice cleanse, ask yourself why you’re doing it:
• To lose weight?
“Weight loss is the absolute last reason you should do it,” said Marie Browning, MS, CNW, who is a certified holistic nutritionist. “A lot of times, the people in the worst physical shape will do the most drastic cleanse.”
She said that people should not just eat whatever they want all year and then do two extreme cleanses to shed pounds.
Lisa Gilreath, RD, LDN, CDE, a registered dietitian, said that when the body is calorie-deficient, it burns protein for three days before it begins to burn fat. When protein breaks down, it releases water. So if you do a three-day juice fast, you are essentially losing water weight from muscles instead of burning fat.
• To increase vitamins and minerals?
Gilreath said juice-only diets tend to be deficient in protein, calcium, carbohydrates and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, K and E.
She said that people who are carbohydrate sensitive — with diabetes or hypoglycemia — may experience fatigue, spikes and falls in blood sugar, headaches and mood swings.
She also said that you do not have to juice to get the antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, and that juicing removes a significant portion of the fiber.
• To detox?
The human body has its own filtration system, but commercial juice diets would have you believe that it needs respite from food intake to release gunk in the colon and intestines and toxins throughout the body.
After listing unhealthy modern habits like restaurant dining, late-night meals, caffeine, medication, drinks, dirty air, impure water, etc., the website of Cooler Cleanse, a commercial detox diet, states, “...It is clear we’re making more demands of our bodies’ detoxification and healing systems than they can handle. ... Over time, toxins build up in the body and the results can be small imbalances like aches, allergies, poor digestion and weight gain, or even an ongoing sense of fatigue.”
Gilreath said that contrary to popular claims, the gastrointestinal system does not retain build-up along intestinal walls or the walls of the colon. Food and fluids are filtered through a number of organs, and toxins are released through perspiration, urination and defecation.
Perhaps modern life takes a tougher toll on the body than the food and environment did a few hundred years ago. But Gilreath said the effects of that toll can be improved through diet and lifestyle. She also said she would never recommend a juice diet.
“Like any other diet fad, I’m not saying you might not feel better, but if you’re eating an unhealthy diet, and then you change to focus on whole foods — non-processed foods — you’ll feel better, not because you juiced it, but because you’re getting whole foods,” she said.
Although they are not efficient methods of weight loss and their effectiveness for detoxification is questionable, juice diets can serve other purposes.
Robert Santos-Prowse and his wife Jamie used it as a transition to healthier eating.
“Last year, my wife and I were going to do a week juice fast because we’d gotten into bad eating habits — eating out, eating desserts and too much, too regularly,” said Santos-Prowse. “So we were going to do more of a behavior modification to sever those bad habits and to help us get back on track.”
He received a bachelor’s degree from East Tennessee State University in nutrition and public relations and is beginning a master’s degree program in nutrition. He also hope to pursue a degree in public health.
He said to talk to your physician or dietitian before beginning a juice fast.
“If you plan it well and do it for a short amount of time, juice diets seem to me like they can be healthy,” he said. “So long as you’re using vegetables, you can get the nutrients you need, but it’s not a sustainable diet.”
Santos-Prowse and his wife made their own juices out of fruits and primarily vegetables.
On day three, Jamie began coupling the juice with whole foods because she has non-epileptic seizures that can be triggered without adequate sleep or food. Robert made it to day five, but said it was too difficult drinking only juice when his wife was not participating.
For the first two days, he said he felt like he was starving himself, feeling hazy and experiencing headaches. On day three, he said he felt great. He had no cravings and high energy. By days four and five, he was not experiencing the day-three high, but did not feel bad.
Robert said purchasing food for the fast was certainly more expensive than his normal grocery shopping costs.
Browning did a juice diet twice and each time averaged about $200 per week. She said she could hardly fit all the produce in her refrigerator. On top of the produce costs, quality juicers range from $100 to $200.
But some people prefer to buy commercial juice blends. This trend, like many others is attractive because of the packaging and promises of better health and appearance on the companies’ websites.
Some popular cleanses with their average daily costs are: Suja Juice $54, BluePrintCleanse $65, Cooler Cleanse $58, Hohm $66 and Roots Juices $50.
“I kind of feel like [commercial detox] is a ploy, so any product promoting detox is going to be a nonsense product,” said Santos-Prowse. “It’s just one of the many peripheral health products that play on people’s insecurities and desires for quick fixes. Read a lot to make sure that you understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
Adding raw juices to your daily diet is an easy way to increase your nutrient intake. Gilreath said some people use the pulp from the juicer and add it to muffins or casseroles. Another option is to make smoothies in a blender to retain the fiber.
Browning recommends eating raw or slightly steamed vegetables and fruits, lean meats and whole grains and to eliminate processed foods, and sugar- and fat-dense foods to reduce toxins.
After two weeks of eating this way, Browning said, you will notice that you are getting more sleep, have fresher breath, cleaner skin and healthy weight loss.
“There is a need for detox, but it needs to be done gradually and done as a lifestyle,” said Browning.
To learn more about detoxifying diets and juice cleanses, read “Eat to Live” by Joe Fuhrman, M.D., or “The New Detox Diet” by Elson M. Haas, M.D. or see the documentary “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.”