Remove toxins from your body. Boost your immune system. Lose weight. Look better. Feel better. Have more energy. Will a juice cleanse – basically a diet in which you consume primarily the juice extracted from fresh fruits and vegetables for a set number of days – do all this for you and more? It certainly sounds enticing, but do these diets work?
Top Five Reasons I Say… Don’t Do It
I’m not a fan of juice cleanses. Here are my top five reasons why:
1. Current research support for following such a plan is almost non-existent. Carefully controlled studies are greatly needed. Potential benefits, such as a drop in weight or a lowering of blood cholesterol appear to be very short lived.
2. Your body naturally is an amazing detox machine! Your small intestine, along with your colon, prevents and destroys many harmful bacteria and toxins from entering your body in the first place. Your liver is a detox workhorse – it inspects, cleans, and filters your blood before it passes from your digestive system to the rest of your body. Your kidneys get rid of waste and unwanted substances in your urine.
3. Few people enjoy being on these diets and they don’t give you what you need. Drinking your calories (liquid) doesn’t satisfy or fill you up the same way as eating whole, solid food does. Some cleanses are far too low in calories to sustain you. Many lack sufficient protein, fibre and other important nutrients required for optimal health. Feeling weak, hungry and miserable while on a cleanse is not uncommon.
4. Meal time is social time. The act of sitting down and sharing a meal with family and friends is a very important part of our happiness and well-being. Not participating in regular mealtimes can feel isolating.
5. Most importantly, these diets promote an unhealthy relationship with food, as does any meal plan that greatly restricts what you consume each day. Many people while on a cleanse can’t stop thinking about food (they become food-obsessed) and can’t wait to eat more normally again.
If you’re still determined to follow one, make sure the plan also contains both protein and fibre. Women should not go below about 1200 calories daily and men 1600 calories. If you have kidney disease or other health problems, these diets can be unsafe.
My recommendation for good health, including detox, is simply to “eat clean”. Avoid foods that are nutrient-poor and loaded with salt, sugar or unhealthy fats, including soft drinks, many processed snack foods and desserts. Stay away from refined grains, like white bread, and limit your intake of red and processed meat. Focus on whole foods that are as close as possible to their natural state, including whole fruits and vegetables with the skin on, nuts, beans and whole grains (especially less processed whole grains like wheat berries, steel cut oats, barley and quinoa).
Is Juicing Your Fruits and Vegetables Still Okay?
Juicing can be a fast and easy way to consume more produce, including a wider variety, and to reach the recommended 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Rather than following a juice cleanse (in which you drink nothing but juice for days in a row), enjoy juicing as part of a regular, healthy diet. Follow these guidelines:
1. Limit yourself to no more than one juice drink, shake or smoothie daily. This rule is most important for drinks made with fruit as they can be a very concentrated source of sugar and calories. Harvard research links the daily consumption of fruit juice to a higher risk of diabetes. Eat most of your fruits and vegetables whole. Let your body do the work it was designed to do and digest your food naturally.
2. Make your own. Store-bought smoothies and juice blends tend to be higher in sugar and lacking in fibre.
3. Use a juicer or blender that mixes the entire fruit and vegetable, including the skin. You don’t want to lose valuable fibre, nutrients and antioxidants. Fibre is important for binding toxins and bile (which lowers blood cholesterol). It also slows the release of sugars into your bloodstream and feeds the good or friendly bacteria that live along your gut. The skin on many fruits and vegetables provides the most concentrated source of health-protective plant compounds.
4. Consider adding fruit, but definitely don’t skip the veggies, especially dark leafy greens like spinach or kale. Most people don’t get enough veggies or greens each day. Cruciferous vegetables, like kale, watercress or broccoli, also stimulate enzymes that help detox your body naturally. Carrots and beets are good for adding sweetness (as well as valuable nutrients and antioxidants) when making a veggie-only drink.
5. Add a source of protein like Greek yogurt, milk, nuts or seeds. This is especially important if your drink is replacing a meal. Protein is essential for building and maintaining muscle mass and so much more.
6. If your drink or smoothie tastes too strong, add a watery fruit or vegetable, like watermelon, cucumber or celery to make it more palatable.
7. Boost flavour and health protection with added herbs or spices. Consider fresh ginger, mint, parsley, basil or cilantro. Add ground cinnamon or nutmeg. Turmeric is an all-star, health-protective spice too.
A juice cleanse can be unhealthy, unenjoyable and negatively impact your relationship with food. Eating whole foods in their natural state is a natural way to stay healthy and keep your body “clean”. Enjoy juice smoothies or shakes in moderation as part of a regular, healthy diet. Make them with healthy ingredients, including dark leafy greens.