The Truth About Juice Cleanses

Detox. Shed weight. Purify your body. These are some of the marketing claims designed to make you feel you’ll be light and ethereal after a juice cleanse. Short of shedding those pounds, undergoing a prolonged “cleanse” in which you down glass after glass of juice and eat no solid food is not a solid foundation to a healthy diet.

Extracting truth from juice cleanse claims

Juice cleansing diets have many names–Master cleanse, detox diet, juice fasting to name a few–but they basically have you drink nothing but juice lasting for a period of days up to months. They promise to:

  • Help shed weight in record time, and
  • Detoxify the body of harmful chemicals

With juice cleanses, weight loss can be drastic and fast because you’re losing mostly water rather than fat. Solid foods containing starchy carbs and fiber (think bread, grains, whole fruit and veggies) hold onto water so when you get rid of them water is lost, too. If it’s sustainable weight loss you’re after, juicing is a poor solution since you can’t get all your nutrients long term from just drinking juices. Juice cleansing is actually just another kind of yo-yo diet.

As for shedding toxins, our liver, colon and kidneys work hard to detoxify us everyday and we don’t need juicing for that to happen. Though enthusiasts claim that juicing can remove more toxins there’s no scientific evidence to back this up.

Weighing the potential perks and pitfalls

On the perk-side, juicing concentrates micronutrients from fruits and vegetables (vitamin C and A, some B-vitamins like folate, phytochemicals and antioxidants) and delivers it in a sweet liquid form quickly absorbed by the body. The pitfalls to juicing, however, outweigh the perks.

  • Fast absorption of sugar  Like those vitamins and antioxidants, natural sugars extracted from fruits and vegetables are quickly absorbed into the body. Fruits and some vegetables have a fairly high sugar content to begin with allowing us to create juices with as much sugar as soda. Drinking juice can spike blood sugar which is unfavorable, especially for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
  • Missing out on fiber  Most juice cleanses are packaged as extracted juices. To make extracted juices,most of the plant’s fiber and pulp is removed from the juice during production. This seems counterproductive since fiber is a big component of why we’re advised to eat fruits and vegetables in the first place! Fiber blunts pesky sugar spike from eating fruits, makes us feel fuller and keeps us regular.
  • Losing out on fat and protein  Most fruits and vegetables don’t contribute much to protein and fat intake but for weight loss purposes, both these nutrients are important since they help you feel more full and satisfied after a meal. Foods containing protein and fat carry higher levels of micronutrients that fruit and veggie juices are lacking like calcium, iron, zinc, and so forth.
  • Expensive  Juicing, especially with organic produce, costs more than eating solid food. Two pounds of carrots can last you a week or more but will only make about 16 ounces of juice. Plus, you’re getting a crazy high dose of water-soluble micronutrients (think vitamin C) outstripping your needs. In the words of a biochemist I know, “you’re making very expensive pee.”

Juicing responsibly

While juice cleansing isn’t on our radar for sustainable weight loss, no one can deny the refreshing taste from a glass of juice. If you’re eating a balanced diet all around there’s no reason to cleanse. You can fit juice into your life moderately (about 4 ounces per day) and enjoy it with other healthy foods If you do choose to do a cleanse, limiting it to a few days is safest as long-term juice cleanses may lead to certain nutrient deficiencies. If you enjoy drinking juice, we’ll be featuring an article on a healthier way to juice coming up soon so stay tuned.

 

Trinh Le
Trinh Le, MPH, RD

Trinh Le is a registered dietitian for MyFitnessPal. She holds her master’s in public health, nutrition from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Trinh is a proponent of balancing food and exercise for a healthy lifestyle. She enjoys hiking, strength training, yoga, running and fidgeting.

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