TORONTO - Nicole Wilson began the new year resolving to live a healthier life. The slim 29-year-old with a self-confessed penchant for junk food wasn't looking to lose weight, but she really wanted to improve her eating habits.
That’s when she and her husband thought of going on a juice cleanse.
“I always think I need to go for that snack, or I crave chocolate or chips,” says the Toronto-based marketing manager. “We decided as a new year’s resolution that we would kick-start a healthier outlook and a healthier regime with a juice cleanse.”
Juice cleanses have created some division among those in the nutritional field — some see them as false promises of fast fixes to unhealthy lifestyles, while others view them as experiences which can promote healthier living.
The latter emphasize support for short cleanses geared toward better overall health and reject extreme fads focused primarily on weight loss. One such example is the Master Cleanse, where a type of lemonade appears to be all that is consumed in the hopes of shedding pounds.
SEE: 10 truths about juice cleanses. Story continues below:
People undergoing chemotherapy, diabetics, people with nutritional deficiencies and people with kidney disease should not try a juice fast. The high sugar consumption involved in juice fasts can skyrocket blood-sugar levels in diabetics, which can result in fatigue, unexplained weight loss, blurry vision, excessive hunger and thirst, and wounds or infections that heal more slowly than usual. According to USA Today, the high levels of potassium and minerals from excessive juice consumption can build up in the blood to hazardous levels in those with kidney disease. And the high levels of antioxidants and low levels of protein can be dangerous for those undergoing chemo.
While the juice form does hydrate and supply nutrients, registered dietitian Jennifer Nelson says there's no reliable scientific research to support claims that juicing your produce is healthier than eating it whole. Actually, the fiber and some of the antioxidants found in the skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables are often eliminated in the juicing process. For example, the white pulp in an orange provides flavonoids, but that's usually left behind. Because juice doesn't offer the fiber contained in fruits and veggies, the body absorbs fructose sugar more easily, which can affect blood-sugar levels, according to Food Republic. If you do decide to try a juice cleanse, drink more veggie juices (carrots and beets not included) and limit fruit juice to one glass a day in order to avoid this potential side effect. None of this means you shouldn't drink juice. It simply means, instead of drinking only juice for weeks, a healthier route might just be including juices in a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/plindberg)
You're not going to feel as satisfied and full if you drink your meals instead of chewing them, Livestrong.com explains. Additionally, the fiber that's been left out of the juice would have helped slow consumption and make you feel more sated.
You should always be skeptical when a diet requires extreme restrictions and cuts out entire food groups. There's a reason dietary guidelines include various categories of food: You can't get all of your essential vitamins and minerals out of just one. Livestrong.com explains that juice fasts frequently lack substantial amounts of protein and fat. "Few fruits contain significant amounts of fat and protein, and vegetables that contain these macronutrients -- such as avocados, beans and lentils -- do not lend themselves to juicing," Livestrong says. "Without sufficient protein, your body has no raw materials with which to build new tissue. A lack of fat leaves your skin and hair in poor shape and contributes to malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins." Extend your juice fast, and you might just cause serious damage. Dr. Glenn D. Braunstein, chairman of the Department of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai, says that longer fasts could result in electrolyte imbalances. Additionally, if you're not getting enough calories, your body could start using muscle tissue instead of fat for energy. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Arenamontanus)
Will you lose weight? Probably -- you're cutting out all of the fat from your diet and drastically lowering your caloric intake. But you'll most likely put it right back on after the fast. "There's nothing wrong with going on a juice fast for a few days," said Dr. James Dillard, assistant clinical professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, on WebMD. "But it's not a great way to lose weight, because you'll gain it all back -- you yo-yo. It's just like the Atkins diet. The weight you lose is water weight." And Dr. Braunstein (of Cedars-Sinai) says this type of deprivation can also result in dizziness, nausea, constipation, fatigue and irritability. Additionally, if you do this to your body enough, you could permanently lower your metabolism -- as if it's not tough enough to lose weight as it is. New York Times writer Judith Newman tried a juice cleanse and wrote about her experience: "This kind of cleansing puts a lot of stress on your body," she wrote. "Your body wants and expects food. And as with most crash diets, which is really what this is, your body thinks it's starving. It doesn't know it's going to get more food. So it lowers your metabolism, and if you do this enough, it can lower your metabolism permanently."
Don't get me wrong: A "detox diet" to rid my body of all the crap I've recently put in it sounds convincing, even to me. Who wouldn't want to "cleanse" their body of all the chemicals, fat and alcohol they've consumed? The fact is, though, our body does an excellent job of this already; our liver, kidneys and intestines filter the unwanted things we ingest and expel them through urine, bowel movements, breath and sweat. We don't need to punish ourselves with strict juice-only diets to eliminate the bad stuff. People were talking about detoxification back in the early 1900s, according to QuackWatch. Supporters of the process claimed that "intestinal sluggishness causes intestinal contents to putrefy, toxins are absorbed and chronic poisoning of the body results." Scientists abandoned this theory, though, in the 1930s, and these mysterious "toxins" that everyone keeps trying to get rid of have never been discovered. "Our bodies are very good at eliminating all the nasties that we might ingest over the festive season," said Dr. John Emsley, a chemical scientist quoted in the Washington Times in a story about the potential of detox diets to get rid of all the junk we put in our bodies over the holidays. The idea of detoxing our bodies by "drinking fancy bottled water or sipping herbal teas is just nonsense." (Photo courtesy of Flickr/lululemon athletica)
The weight loss industry is a business -- a booming one at that. As of February 2011, the weight loss market was valued at almost $60 billion, including bariatric surgery, diet soft drinks, health club revenues and more by Marketdata Enterprises. BluePrintCleanse, a popular New York-based manufacturer, will charge you $65 a day for its cleansing package of juices. Los Angeles-based Pressed Juicery offers three different cleanse packages, each providing five juices and one almond milk for a total cost of $70 a day. Want to juice at home? Get ready to put down some money. Juicers range from $30 to $300. And since you shouldn't be saving unpasteurized juice for later, you might want to buy one for the office while you're at it. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Andrew Stawarz)
Proponents of the juice fast claim it will cure your case of the sniffles and even treat cancer. There has been no scientific evidence suggesting it will do anything but help increase your vitamin intake -- which, yes, could benefit your health, but the calorie restriction and lack of protein might actually slow healing. Your body needs all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients it can get to heal. The best thing you can do with your diet is to make sure you're not depriving it of an essential nutrient and eat balanced, well-portioned meals. As for cancer, the American Cancer Society states that current scientific research does not support fasting (including juice fasting) to treat it. Additionally, as previously stated, those undergoing chemotherapy should not attempt a juice fast because of the risk posed by the high levels of antioxidants and low levels of protein.
It's true. Many people who try these detox diets report having more energy and feeling more focused. However, as Mayo Clinic explains, this could be due to the belief that they're doing something good for their bodies. That said, you could also argue that there's nothing wrong with a placebo effect if it does the job. As the NYT writer who tried one of these cleanses wrote, "What's so bad about feeling a little better, even if there's no demonstrable proof that you actually are better?"
Wilson opted for a regime that involved three days of consuming nothing but six to eight bottles of organic fresh fruit and vegetable juices as well as teas that were delivered to her door every morning by a company specializing in “juice feasting.”
The toughest part was knowing she wouldn't be having any of her favourite foods.
“The hardest part for me was the mental hurdle,” she says. “I never felt hungry. The biggest challenge was just beating that craving. I missed chewing.”
While she enjoyed the experience, the lasting effect of the cleanse was how much more aware Wilson became of what she consumed.
“I still like my junk food, but we try to inject more healthy nutrition into our lifestyle, and this cleanse was a catalyst for that,” she says. “We look forward to having fruits and veggies way more than we ever have before.”
That kind of shift in thinking is one of the reasons why registered dietician Susan Fyshe doesn’t discourage her clients from trying a short juice cleanse if they want to.
“From a weight-loss standpoint, it’s not the most effective way to lose weight. From a health standpoint, though, there are benefits to juicing,” says Fyshe, who also teaches a course on the latest in the science of weight loss at the University of Toronto.
“It is easily absorbed and it’s concentrated nutrition. It also rests the GI tract.”
Longer juice cleanses — between five and 10 days — veer into more tricky territory, says Fyshe, and ought to be tried only under medical supervision. Diabetics and those with blood sugar issues should steer clear of the cleanses, she adds.
Rather than routinely opting for cleanses, however, Fyshe encourages her clients to add “juicing” — the practice of pressing fresh juice out of fruits and vegetables with specialized equipment — to a healthy diet.
“Just going on a juice cleanse for a couple of days is not going to make that much difference because it depends what you’re putting into your body every day,” she says. “I think people can look at juicing as a healthy add-on to a healthy way of living.”
The idea of embarking on a juice-only diet or any sort of dietary cleanse, however, doesn’t sit well with at least one doctor.
“These to me suggest that people are still desperately hoping for shortcuts to health, and if there were such things then we would all be a lot healthier than we actually are,” says Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa.
“When it comes to the concept of detoxification or toxins, it’s a completely made-up concept. Our body really does already have incredibly, wonderfully powerful systems to help keep ourselves healthy — our livers and our kidneys do a remarkably good job.”
According to Freedhoff, cleanses offer a tantalizingly easy promise of improving one’s health to a certain extent, but he contends that meaningful results can only be obtained by making significant lifestyle changes. He recommends getting 20 minutes of exercise multiple times a week, preparing meals from fresh ingredients, getting enough sleep and nurturing one’s relationships as the means to achieving better health.
“If there were such a thing as health in a bottle, we’d have a very healthy population,” he says. “If you want to consume more fruits and vegetables for your health, that is a great plan, but you have to actually eat them.”
The founder of a company specializing in juice cleanses argues, however, that people simply do not end up consuming as many whole fruits and vegetables as they should, making a cleanse a simple way to achieve that target for at least a few days.
“It helps kick-start lifestyle change,” says Eliane Seyfaie, founder of Raw Juice Guru in Toronto.
The 36-year-old makes it a point to emphasize that her cleanses are not aimed at helping people lose weight. Instead, she encourages her clients to learn more about their nutritional patterns and how their dietary choices impact their bodies.
While many of her customers report higher energy levels during a cleanse, Seyfaie also believes her juice regimes help clients break bad habits.
“A lot of it is mental, you end up learning a lot about your cravings when you’re on the cleanse,” she says. “You’re going to say ‘it’s not worth it’ and hopefully it won’t happen as much.”
Seyfaie makes it clear that a juice cleanse isn’t an immediate solution to an unhealthy lifestyle. But she hopes the experience helps people make better dietary choices going forward.
“Whether you do a juice cleanse or whether you include (juicing) in everyday life, it’s a good thing,” she says. “Your food is either your medicine or your poison, you have to pick which one.”