As January is nearing its end, many of us are reflecting on whether or not any of our new year’s resolutions have actually been incorporated into our lives. One of the most common goals that people consistently set for the new year is to eat healthier. Whether this means to simply eat more salad or have a less toxic relationship with food, it’s no surprise that our diet is one of the areas of our lifestyles that we are continuously trying to improve. In January –– whether due to Christmas dinner guilt, or a general desire to “better” oneself –– many embark on juice cleanses. The reasons people choose to do so vary from weight loss to pure curiosity, but before you entertain the idea of doing one, remember that scientific research has an answer for you: don’t.
Before I derail juice cleanses, I will first say that there is nothing wrong with incorporating the juices or more of its ingredients into your current diet. Green juices, made from kale, spinach, cucumber and/or celery, are packed with antioxidants and nutrients. While juicing removes a good portion of the fibre that is in the vegetables, drinking your greens can be a great way of ensuring that you are getting important vitamins that you may not be getting elsewhere in your diet. Another popular juice choice of cleanse programs are carrot juices, which provide high amounts of potassium, vitamin C and enhance eye and skin health. There is also beet juice –– my personal favourite juice to purchase from fancy health food stores –– which is beneficial in lowering blood pressure, improving exercise stamina, and may even prevent cancer. There is no doubt that juices are plentiful in vitamins, minerals and nutrients, but to solely consume them for even a short period of time comes with controversy.
Despite juices providing some great health benefits, there are many risks involved with doing a juice cleanse that outweigh the benefits of one. Drinking a copious amount of juice in a short period of time may be harmful to those with kidney disorders: certain types of juices (particularly kale and beet) contain oxalate, an acid that can affect kidney stones. While juice cleanses do aid in temporary weight loss, consuming an extremely low amount of calories can cause low blood sugar, fainting, weakness, dehydration and –– not shockingly –– hunger. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports that the FDA and FTC have taken action against companies for marketing products as “detoxifying” and “cleansing,” due to having illegal, potentially harmful ingredients and were sold using false claims that they could treat serious diseases. Juice cleanse programs, which often stress that they will remove dangerous chemicals from the body, can ironically create bacteria if they are not pasteurized properly, in turn weakening immune systems.
While these disadvantages may be already known to you, there are also unexpected and bizarre side effects that –– while rare –– should nevertheless be taken into consideration. Arden Fanning of W Magazine reported a hilarious yet nightmarish story of a doctor noting that her skin turning orange was a result of eating a bag of carrots a day on top of juicing. This is due to an excess of beta-carotene, a precursor in Vitamin A, which can change one’s complexion into an orange hue, Other than carrots, this chemical is also in sweet potatoes, winter squash, cantaloupe, and even greens like spinach, kale, and collards. While these foods are all nutritious and should thus not necessarily be removed from one’s diet, remember to keep everything in moderation –– even the healthy stuff.
Juice cleanses can not only be harmful to your body but can also affect your mental health. Marianne Gillow, a psychiatrist in Manhattan who consults for the Fashion Institute of Technology, warns of the psychological dangers of juice fasting: “My biggest concern about juice cleanses is that they fuel obsessive thinking,” she said. “People who have trouble managing their weight tend to be all or nothing about things. Cleansing doesn’t allow you to make peace with real food.” Restricting your intake to merely juices can trigger disordered eating patterns that may last beyond the duration of your cleanse. And if you desire to embark on a juice cleanse as a form of detoxification –– even with the knowledge that the body detoxifies itself –– chances are you already possess a disordered mindset when it comes to food. As the large decrease in calories will likely cause hunger, it is important to note that hunger is not just a sensation of the body but has profound effects on your mental health. Hunger can cause stress, depression, anxiety and a generally negative mood. Thus –– if the physical risks were not enough to prevent you from wanting to buy three day’s worth of juices –– the dangerous ways in which it can affect you psychologically should also be acknowledged.
While the new year may inspire you to improve or change your eating, do not initiate diets that will, in turn, put your health at risk rather than enhance it. Companies will continue to market juice cleanses as an alluring pursuit, with hopes of it “detoxifying” and “purifying” your body, so having scientific evidence at-hand to explain why these claims are false is crucial in avoiding being misled. Rather than forcing yourself to survive off of liquids for days or weeks at a time, figure out ways to add more nutrition into your lifestyle in a way that is healthy and non-obsessive.