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Are Juice Cleanses Safe?: Inside the Juiciest New Trend

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. 

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Hunger

We’re not going to beat around the bush—you’ll be hungry. 

“I would say that during my cleanse, slight feelings of hunger came and went, which is why it is so important to drink tons of water in between juices,” Katie says. 

Some people experience more than just slight hunger pangs. “I did a juice cleanse before spring break and I wanted to punch (or eat) anyone that came near me because I was so hungry,” says Lauren, a freshman at the University of Michigan. “By the second day, I had a really bad headache that made it hard to focus in class, and I ended up eating food on the morning of the third day because I couldn’t wait another day.”  

If you get so hungry that you are experiencing splitting headaches, dizziness, faintness, blurred vision, or any other debilitating side effects, you should stop the cleanse—it’s not healthy if it’s hurting you! 

Digestive Issues 

Again, cleanses affect everyone differently so there’s no telling if you’ll experience digestive issues, but it does happen to some people. 

Since juicing removes much of the fiber in fruits and veggies, you may experience constipation. Some cleanses recommend using an enema or laxative during the cleanse, but you should definitely check with the company and your doctor before doing so, and under no circumstance should you make a habit of taking those products. “Heavy use of products like laxatives, enemas, or colonic teas can actually be quite harmful as they have the potential to disrupt your body’s normal gut flora and also your electrolyte balance,” Ferraro says.

On the flip side, a cleanse could increase the frequency or change the consistency of your #2s.  

Expenses 

If you’re doing a cleanse through a company, it’s going to cost you. Most cleanses range from $50-$75 per day. “All juice cleanses are relatively pricey… the ingredients are, after all, expensive, and the juicing and packaging is labor intensive,” Katie says. “That is why getting a juicer may be a good alternative, but it is of course more time consuming.”  

You can get a juicer for about $80-$200 at Target, Macy’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, or any kitchen supply store. Due to its large size, a juicer may not be the way to go if you live in the dorms, but if you’re looking to incorporate fresh juices into your diet in the future then it’s a great post-college investment! 

I Want To Do A Cleanse—How Should I Start? 

1. Determine your motives and consult your doctor 

Ferraro’s first question to girls interested in doing a cleanse is, “why are you juicing?” 

It’s important that your motives are clear and that you are aware of what you want out of a juice cleanse to ensure that you are doing it for healthy reasons and do not have unrealistic expectations. If you are looking to transform your body, a cleanse on its own is not your solution. 

The best approach is to consult your doctor or a nutritionist to determine if a cleanse is a good idea for you personally. This is especially important if you have a particular medical condition that renders cleansing unhealthy or dangerous. “People who should not try a juice fast include those who have diabetes and are on insulin or certain diabetes medications.” 

2. Pick a company or plan

Since juicing has become so popular, there is no shortage of cleanse kits. You can search online for retailers near you that sell them, or find a company that delivers to your area. 

When looking for a cleanse, nix ones that promise outrageous weight loss results or unrealistic health benefits that counter the information we’ve laid out here. Your best bet is to find one that offers singular juices or a 1 day cleanse so that you can make sure you like the taste before blowing all your money.  

You can find the cleanse that Katie did here, or check out any of the ones below. The Blue Print Cleanse is super popular among celebs, and the Cooler Cleanse is the one made by Salma Hayek! We’ve chosen these ones because although they do offer longer cleanses, they all offer single-serve juices or a one day cleanse, so you can play it safe.    

If you’re doing a cleanse on your own using a juicer, then make sure you are following a set plan to make sure that you get the right amount of nutrients and calories to sustain you, and that you’re drinking at the right times. You can find a plan online, or mimic a company cleanse by finding out the ingredients and timing of each drink. 

3. Pick a good timeframe

Doing a cleanse will be harder if it’s during an inconvenient time, such as when you have a big exam or a party, so take your schedule into consideration. “Juicing may be challenging to incorporate within your social schedule, which is why I think it’s important to choose which days you will be cleansing wisely- probably days when you’re not planning on going out with friends,” Katie says. “I think it’s good to avoid weekends- weekdays are busier and less social.” 

If you’ve never done a cleanse before, try a one day-cleanse to see how it works for you. We don’t recommend anything longer than a two-day cleanse per Ferraro’s advice, but if you’re interested in doing a longer one then consult your doctor.   

4. Drink lots of water

Just because you’re drinking lots of juice doesn’t mean you can stop drinking water! Water will minimize your hunger, and staying hydrated is always important. 

5. Ease back into real food  

As much as you may want to devour anything and everything in sight the moment you’re done, your stomach will not be happy. “It’s important to ease out of the cleanse by choosing foods that are easily digested,” Katie says. She recommends raw salads and fruits. 

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I Don’t Want To Cleanse—But I Do Want Juice!  

To her clients, Ferraro does not recommend cleansing, but rather looking at “what other areas of your diet might benefit from improvement without a dramatic shift such as one that is totally reliant on juicing.” 

Treating fresh fruit and vegetable juices as a supplement to a healthy diet, rather than a replacement, is a great way to start! You’ll get the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients without the big to-do of a cleanse.

Looking for a recipe? We’ve got you covered. If you don’t have a juicer, you can use a blender! Just take out any ingredients that will give your blender a hard time (like carrots), add ice, and make yourself a delicious smoothie! You can also add almond milk to make it creamier but keep it healthy. And don’t let the color of a green juice or smoothie hold you back—we promise it tastes better than it looks. 

Apple Orange Twist 
Makes 2 servings 

  • 2 gala apples
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 orange
  • 3-4 large kale leaves, ribs removed 
  • 1 cup blackberries

Tropical Delight
Makes 1 serving

  • 1-2 cups loosely packed kale, ribs removed
  • 1 mango
  • 1 cup chopped pineapple  

The Veggie
Makes 1 serving 

  • 1 cup spinach
  • 2 carrots 
  • 1 tomato 
  • 1 apple 

So there you have it, ladies—you’re up to speed on the juicing craze and ready to try a juice yourself.  Bottoms up!

Have you ever done a juice cleanse? Got any other good recipes? Share in a comment below! 

 

Sammie is a student at the University of Michigan where she is pursuing a BBA. A foodie since birth, she enjoys cooking, eating, smelling, looking at, photographing, reading about, and playing with any and all types of food. Her idolization of culinary delights is complemented by her active spirit- she enjoys running, swimming, barre classes, and even spontaneous bursts of interpretative dance if the mood strikes her. She has completed two triathlons and a half-marathon and plans to tackle more races in the future. She also dreams of traveling the globe, saving the world, and marrying James and/or Dave Franco. 
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