From the juice boxes in our elementary school lunch boxes, to our morning glass of OJ and the lemonade we mix into our red solo cups, juice has always been a part of our lives. But for anyone who has read dieting tips, you’ve likely heard “don’t drink your calories,” which has maybe led you to ditch high-cal fruit juices. That advice seems to be getting a makeover, however, with the increasing popularity of juicing and juice cleanses. So what are you supposed to believe? Do juice cleanses deliver the health benefits they promise, or are they a recipe for disaster? We know the information out there can be confusing and inconclusive, so we’re here to answer your questions and give you all the juicy details.
What Is A Juice Cleanse?
A juice cleanse is when you say goodbye to solid foods and drink only fresh juices for a duration of time. Fresh is the key word—the juices involved in a cleanse are typically made from nothing but fresh fruits and vegetables, so you either have to make the juices yourself using a juicer, or buy them from a cleanse company. In other words, while Tropicana is great alongside your breakfast cereal, it—along with any other commercial juice—wouldn’t make the cut for a cleanse due to the added ingredients and sugar.
Katie Ferraro, Registered Dietician at Ingrain Health, notes that it is important to differentiate between juicing and blending. “With juicing, you extract juice from the pulp and discard the pulp,” she says. That means that smoothies are off limits. And although a juice cleanse may be a liquid diet, alcohol is off limits too (sorry Drake and Lil’ Wayne, but your “24-hour champagne diet” will have to wait).
Juice cleanses are usually designed to last one to five days, but they can be longer. In the documentary “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead,” the overweight protagonist, Joe Cross, embarks on a 60-day juice cleanse! Ferraro says that the popularity of juicing “has waxed and waned over the decades” but she attributes the recent resurgence to this documentary. Not only does Joe lose 80 pounds, but also “the movie is a great commentary on the way we eat in the United States and how many of our health problems are associated with obesity.” With such dramatic weight loss results and a powerful message, it’s no wonder that the film has created a buzz about juicing.
Health-conscious celebs, from Blake Lively to Gwyneth Paltrow, have added to the hype by toting fresh pressed juices and praising cleanses. Salma Hayek even co-founded her own cleanse company! But before you swear off solid food forever and hop on the juice cleanse bandwagon, let’s weigh the pros and cons.
What Are The Benefits?
People cleanse for a variety of reasons—to try to lose weight, to find inner peace and mindfulness, to detoxify after a period of unhealthy eating, to jump-start a diet, or to try something new and tackle a challenge, just to name a few.
“Juicing or any type of cleanse, provided that it is done for a short period of time, can be a helpful tool if it represents a psychological break between a period of unhealthy eating (example: the holidays) and then an upcoming period of more healthful eating,” Ferraro says. She recommends that a juice cleanse be done for no more than two days—we’ll get into why she suggests that in a bit.
Katie Schepps, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvannia, is a juice cleanse enthusiast after interning with a nutritionist, working at a vegan restaurant that sells cleanses, and researching the benefits.
“Because raw, enzymatically active liquid is so easy to digest, juicing—even if for one meal—gives the digestive system a break,” Katie says. “It is also good for the liver. Of course, juicing provides the body with the nutrients that are sought in fruits and vegetables, but in a more efficient way. The concentration of vitamins, minerals and enzymes in the juice quickly enters the bloodstream and is absorbed in a much faster way than solid fruits and vegetables would be.”
Katie had a very positive experience with the three-day juice cleanse that she tried from Christopher’s Kitchen, the restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens that she used to work at. “I drank five different 16 oz. hand-pressed juices made from fresh fruits and vegetables for each of those three days,” Katie explains. The cleanse costs $65 per day and comes with juices that contain fruits like pineapple, apple, and pear, and veggies like cucumber, romaine, spinach, carrot, and kale.
After cleansing, Katie says that she felt lighter and energized. “Cleansing is a good way to feel light on your feet (maybe before an event or special occasion), clear your head, or even fuel that initial motivation to jump-start a healthy eating regime,” she says.
Though Katie loves fresh fruit and vegetable juices, she is skeptical of more extreme cleanses that involve bizarre concoctions. “I have a friend who did the 5-day Master Cleanse (in which you only drink a mixture of lemon, cayenne, maple syrup, and water for five days) and I do not know how she did it,” she says. “A juice cleanse made with fresh juices and vegetables, on the other hand, actually leaves you feeling satisfied and refreshed, not to mention you are providing nourishment to your body and detoxification for your tissues.”
What Are The Drawbacks?
Ferraro makes it clear that despite all the hype, juice cleanses are “not a panacea.”
“As with all fad diets, juicing is not sustainable. [We] cannot live on juice alone!” she says.
First and foremost, the name “cleanse” can be slightly misleading because it gives you the impression that you need to do one in order to flush out the junk in your body. That is not the case, Ferraro points out. “There is no physiological need to undergo a detox - every time you have a bowel movement, that's your colon's way of detoxifying itself.”
The reason why Ferraro only recommends doing a short cleanse of no more than two days is because of the effect that a lack of protein, fiber, and calories can have on your body.
“The dangers of a prolonged juice cleanse are that the majority of cleanses are inadequate in calories, fiber (when you throw out the pulp, you throw out the fiber), and other nutrients, particularly protein. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of many nutrients, but certainly not protein,” she says.
She adds that cleanses “can lead to electrolyte imbalances or rapid weight loss that is not sustainable once the individual resumes ‘normal’ eating.”
That last part is worth repeating—juicing should not be viewed as a quick fix to weight loss or a ticket to your dream body.
“If you use juicing as a proxy to severely limit calories, the resultant effect on your metabolism is that your body thinks you're starving, and it conserves energy, slowing down your metabolism,” Ferraro says. “When you return to eating ‘normal’ food, your body perceives itself to be in a feasting state, and in preparation for the next ‘starvation period,’ it will start very efficiently storing calories as fat and yes, you will end up gaining weight.”
Katie echoes this warning. “A juice cleanse is not an answer to permanent weight loss. While you may shed a few pounds in those three days, the rapid weight loss is not usually sustainable, and the pounds may come back as solid foods are incorporated back into the diet,” she says.
In fact, you may actually gain weight on a cleanse if you are consuming just fruit juices, instead of a mixture of fruit and vegetable ones. When you juice a fruit, “you often end up with a very concentrated source of fructose (naturally occurring fruit sugar) which can contribute to some very high calorie juices,” Ferraro explains.
You could also gain weight if you do not follow a set plan and end up drinking bigger portions than you should. Likewise, if after abstaining from solid food for a day or two (or longer) you proceed to binge on every solid food you can get your hands on to compensate, weight gain could result.
All of that being said, if doing a cleanse motivates you to maintain a better diet afterwards, then it can result in weight loss if you keep up your healthy eating habits. That’s what happened for Joe from “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead,” who has maintained his weight loss ever since!
Cleansing affects everyone differently, but here’s a breakdown of a few other drawbacks that you could experience.