Are Juice Cleanses Healthy? Dietitians Weigh In
If you have any interest in wellness or healthy eating, chances are you’re familiar with the idea of a juice cleanse. They’re advertised everywhere from social media to health food stores. Also commonly known as a juice fast, it’s pretty hard to not take a second glance at these when you come across them. That’s because the supposed benefits claimed by the juice bars and bottled juice companies selling them sound pretty fabulous. After all, who doesn’t want to detox and feel great? All you have to do is drink copious amounts of vegetable and fruit juices for anywhere from three to 21 days, and supposedly, you’ll feel like a brand-new person. Or at least that’s what juice cleanses perpetrators want you to believe.
Makers of juice cleanses purport that these fasts will incite your body to flush out toxins and rapidly lose weight, as well as boost your energy levels and improve your digestion. But is there any merit to these claims? Are juice cleanses healthy? We asked two registered dietitians for their take on this health fad, and their answers may surprise you.
There are some benefits to drinking juice
It’s important to note that drinking a bottle of green juice is different from doing nothing but drinking bottles of green juice for numerous days—and that not all juice is created equal.
“One benefit of juice is that it provides a significant amount of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients and can be a convenient way to boost your daily fruit and vegetable intake,” says Bianca Tamburello, RDN of FRESH Communications. “A 2017 study found that fruit and vegetable juice could help lower cholesterol and blood pressure,” she adds. She mentions, though, that a diet full of whole fruits and vegetables can also have this beneficial effect.
We benefit from consuming both fruits and vegetables, but our bodies process sugary foods differently than they do without much starch. When you remove the fiber from a starchy or sugary produce item, such as beets, apples, sweet potatoes, and pineapple, you also remove the natural process of fiber which slows down the digestion of sugar. That means your blood sugar can spike and drop.
Therefore, it can generally be said that juices from lower starch foods, such as leafy greens, celery, and cucumbers, offer the benefits of juice without a major downside. Is it healthy to ingest nothing but juice for days on end, though?
No, juice cleanses are not a healthy idea.
It may surprise you if you’re a fan of juice cleanses, but they simply are not healthy.
“Juice cleanses are unhealthy for a myriad of reasons,” says Amrie DeFrates, RD, founder of Amrie’s Homegrown. “Though many will argue cleanses are short term and therefore harmless, it is not unheard of to experience uncomfortable consequences,” she adds.
The risks outweigh the benefits when it comes to juice fasts.
“Weight loss and increased energy are often touted as reasons to do a juice cleanse, though these are not long-lasting effects and are symptoms of starvation,” DeFrates tells us. “Sure, juices do contain many vitamins and minerals, but in the absence of adequate protein and fat, the benefits are easily nullified.”
Tamburello agrees. “I do not recommend juice cleanses because they’re an extreme form of dieting that is not necessary for good nutrition or health. Juice alone is not an appropriate meal replacement and does not provide the recommended amounts of calories, protein, fiber, and healthy fats that whole foods provide to keep you full and fuel a healthy and strong body.”
Additionally, Tamburello notes that science just doesn’t back the claims of juice companies and their advocates. “Juice cleanses are often positioned as a way to flush out toxins but there is not enough scientific evidence to support this. Most people do not have to worry about flushing out toxins because our organs including the kidney, liver, lungs, intestines, and even skin do a great job of eliminating harmful substances.”
We know that juice cleanses don’t offer us enough nutrition to be healthy, but you may be wondering just how bad they can be. Pretty darn unhealthy is the unfortunate answer to that!
The side effects of a juice cleanse
Not only is a juice cleanse far from a magic fix for your wellness, but it might also lead to some pretty unpleasant side effects.
“Some side effects of juice cleanses include gas, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, and inadequate vitamin absorption,” DeFrates tells us. “Other more serious consequences include loss of muscle mass and injury to the kidneys (particularly when there are underlying risk factors).”
In addition to these side effects, there is an additional risk for people who have experienced eating disorders.
“Because juice cleanses are low in calories, it is more likely for a person to binge at some point after the cleanse due to what is known as the restriction-binge cycle,” says DeFrates. “People with a history of an eating disorder may be triggered by the restriction and rigidity of a juice cleanse.”
Weight loss may be a result of a juice cleanse, but it doesn’t occur in a manner that’s good for your body.
“Like many diets, a juice cleanse that restricts foods partially or completely most likely will lead to weight loss because it’s a form of restricting calories,” says Tamburello. So don’t expect that weight loss to stick once you finish the cleanse, by any means. “In most cases, taking extreme measures to lose weight in a short amount of time results in quickly gaining the weight back later,” she adds.
Fast weight loss is dangerous long-term as well.
“The weight lost is usually water weight or muscle mass,” says DeFrates. “A loss in muscle mass reduces metabolism, making it easier to gain weight once calories increase after the cleanse. Yo-yo dieting and frequent fluctuations in weight can increase the risk of a cardiovascular event, regardless of how much a person weighs.”
The best way to consume juice
Just because a juice cleanse is a terrible idea doesn’t mean that drinking vegetable or fruit juice occasionally is. If you enjoy juice, you can incorporate it into your diet in a way that benefits, rather than hinders, your wellness.
“Look for juices that do not contain added sugars and be conscious of juice serving sizes,” suggests Tamburello. “One cup of 100% juice can count as a daily fruit or vegetable serving to help meet the average recommendation of 2.5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit per day. But it’s still important to eat a good amount of whole fruits and vegetables. The USDA 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half your daily fruit intake should come from whole fruits and not juice alone.”
Because of its sugar content, a mindful approach to drinking juice is the best one.
“Hydrate well with water, include adequate fiber in the diet, and take the time to enjoy juice mindfully by sipping and savoring,” says DeFrates.
The bottom line
Forget what you’ve heard from juice companies about the merits of juice cleanses because they aren’t actually a good idea whatsoever. In fact, they can be downright harmful. While fresh fruit and vegetable juices can provide you with phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals, consuming nothing but juice for days on end is a bad idea.
From rapid weight loss that will quickly be regained to unpleasant digestive side effects, and even a risk of binging on food once you finish, a juice cleanse is far too risky to call healthy. Instead, enjoy a glass of juice on occasion, and center your diet around fresh, whole foods.
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