Considering a juice cleanse? Here’s what you need to know about it.
Weight loss is often a goal, but the reasons people are drawn to juice cleanses go beyond that. The companies claim they will help you “refresh and rejuvenate”, “detox”, “feel better”, “reset your eating habits”, and more.
But while some people swear by them, many experts say there’s no evidence they deliver what they promise.
Nicole Appleby, an actress based in Los Angeles, is a fan. She does a juice cleanse about three times a year and finds that while it can be difficult, the benefits are worth it. “It’s a kind of misery that turns into euphoria,” she says. Appleby says she notices a decrease in the joint pain she experiences due to an autoimmune inflammatory disease.
Seattle trainer Lizzie Braicks-Rinker also wanted to see what juicing was all about. She had intended to go the full seven days but – feeling grumpy, tired and weak, and struggling to get through her normal yoga practice – tapped out on the fifth day. Ultimately, the thought of attending a friend’s baby shower “feeling completely miserable” prompted her to quit sooner than expected.
The two women’s experiences mirror what you see on social media, with some people who have tried a juice cleanse touting the benefits; some complain of exhaustion, digestive system distress and more; and others warn that some juice-based cleansers can be harmful. What are the facts ? We reviewed the evidence for juice fasting claims.
Not all juice cleansers make explicit weight loss claims, but there’s no doubt that’s one of the main reasons people try one.
Can a juice cure make you lose weight? Yes, but not because there is anything special in the juice. In reality, a juice cleanse is simply a calorie-restricted diet, says Tinsay A. Woreta, liver specialist and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “You’re relying on a diet of only fruits and vegetables,” she says, so it makes sense that you’ll lose weight in the short term.
But no research exists to support the idea that a juice fast will lead to sustained weight loss. If you’re losing a few pounds, it’s probably because you’re eating fewer calories than usual or because you’ve lost water weight instead of fat. Once you start eating again, even if your diet is healthier than before the cleanse, the weight will likely return.
A new trend in cleansing is to incorporate solid foods into the routine – for example, you drink juice during the day, then have a small plant-based meal in the evening. While it may add fiber and more calories to your day and help stave off hunger, the end result will likely be the same.
For some, a “quick fix” weight loss mentality can be harmful and can even trigger eating disorders. “The proof [shows] that most diets cause a cycle of weight – rapid weight loss then weight gain – that can have a detrimental effect on our physical and mental health,” says Alicia Romano, clinical dietitian at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. This may be especially true for people who have a history of eating disorders or poor body image.
It’s true that our bodies come into contact with potentially harmful substances every day, whether in our environment (like air pollution) or through drinking alcohol, says Ryan D. Andrews, Assistant Nutrition Instructor at Purchase College in New York. A diet high in ultra-processed foods — which are often loaded with sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats — can also affect your health.
The body naturally cleans itself all the time, however. Healthy people “can rely on the liver, kidneys, digestive tract, and even the skin and lungs to naturally detoxify the body,” Romano says. These organs convert toxins into compounds that are eliminated by our body in sweat, urine, and feces.
Nutrients such as vitamin C and flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables help support these processes. But there is no evidence that consuming them in liquid form is better than consuming them while eating plant foods.
Plus, Woreta says, opt for juices over food and “you’re depriving yourself of other nutrients your body needs.” Fiber is a good example. It is limited or completely absent from juice cleanses. It can also be one of the most important ways your body gets rid of harmful compounds.
“Some people think that when they drink green juice, their life is better,” Andrews says. “It’s an important thing to recognize.” Many say they have more energy and less bloating. Some people also praise the rigidity of the plans. “There’s no hassle deciding what to eat, or just eating because you’re bored,” Appleby says.
For those whose diet isn’t ideal — for example, not enough fruits and vegetables or containing a lot of processed foods — a juice cleanse may be something your body appreciates. “If you’re not eating vegetables or fruits and you suddenly add all these juices, you’re getting vitamins that you weren’t getting before,” Andrews says.
Additionally, the sugars in fruit juices can give you an energy boost because compared to consuming the fruits themselves, the sugars in the juices are digested and released into your bloodstream faster, which which leads to an increase in blood sugar. But over time, this can have a downside. A spike in blood sugar can cause the body to pump out large amounts of insulin, which can lead to fat storage and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
And if you’re not drinking enough water, a fluid-rich juice cleanse can help relieve symptoms like fatigue, headaches and joint pain. Of course, drinking water as part of a balanced diet is also an easy and free way to get proper hydration.
There’s also an explanation why juice cleanses can make you feel less bloated. “There are no solids coming in, so you don’t feel as stretched out,” Andrews says. Plus, by eliminating all or most solid foods, you’ve also eliminated ingredients that cause gas — a normal byproduct of the diet — or to which you may be particularly sensitive. This clean slate can help you feel better in the short term.
Juice cleanses are not for everyone. People with chronic conditions should proceed with caution and discuss this with their healthcare team before doing a cleanse. These include people with diabetes (type 1 and type 2), kidney or liver disease, eating disorders (active or with a history), inflammatory bowel disease, or bowel syndrome irritable, as well as those who are immunocompromised, pregnant or breastfeeding, Romano says.
If you don’t have any of these conditions and can stomach the price — a three-day program can cost up to $150 — a juice cleanse probably won’t hurt. Keep the cleanse short and consider doing one that is a combination of juicing and solid foods. If you try a cleanse and you don’t feel well at any point, stop and eat real food – and seek health care if you don’t get better right away.
Even though a juice cleanse helps you hit the reset button or shed a few pounds, it’s not meant to be a long-term fix.
And remember, there’s a low-risk, inexpensive, and scientifically proven way to support your body that can help you feel your best: eating a colorful, balanced, and varied diet. “Think fiber-rich foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, lots of water, limited alcohol, and less concentrated sweets and ultra-processed foods,” Romano says.
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