With summer in full swing, so are the advertisements for miracle diets and cleanses claiming to help you live your best life. One of the most common types? Juice cleanses. So we’re taking a look at what they’re all about, whether they provide health benefits, and whether they live up to the hype.
A juice cleanse, also known as a juice fast, is an increasingly popular fad in the health and fitness world. According to many companies and influencers, a juice cleanse has the ability to “restart” and detox the body.
Although specifics vary depending on the company, most juice cleanses involve drinking primarily fruit or vegetable juices and water for a certain amount of time — usually ranging from a few days to a week. Some juice cleanses will allow small amounts of modifications — such as drinking vegetable broth — but most suggest sticking to the directions for optimal results.
There are two main types of juice cleanses, traditional juice cleanses and blended juice cleanses. In a traditional juice cleanse, the fruits and vegetables are pressed so that the juice is separated from the pulp and fibrous parts of the fruits and vegetables. With a blended juice cleanse, the fruits and vegetables are blended together, so the person consumes all of the edible parts of the fruits and vegetables — sort of like a smoothie without any additional ingredients.
Some juice cleanses are done in combination with dietary supplements. Others may also be done in combination with procedures that “cleanse” the colon, such as enemas or colonic irrigation.
Many juice cleanse companies claim that by following their regimen, you may experience the following positive effects:
• A “body restart” — The claim of a “body restart” is a common, yet often vague, stated benefit of juice cleanses. It is often referenced as a way for your body to start over or recover after a weekend of unhealthy eating and drinking.
• Detoxification — Another touted benefit of juice cleansing is detoxification. Some regimens may mention specific toxins; however, most simply say that juice cleansing is a way to remove toxins from the body.
• Weight loss — Weight loss is another commonly promised benefit of juice cleanses — some companies even going as far as to say that their cleanse will reboot your metabolism.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an entirely straightforward answer to this question. Whether or not a juice cleanse “works” depends on what you are expecting it to do in the first place.
Many juice cleanses are marketed as miracle elixirs of sorts — with promises that they will “detoxify” the body, pump it full of antioxidants, and cure a wide range of ailments. However, most of the time, this isn’t the case. The body is an extraordinary machine that is designed to regulate itself and maintain “homeostasis” (or balance) through many physiologic processes. And when it comes to detoxifying the body, the liver is on the front line. The liver works constantly to rid the body of toxins, whether or not you decide to do a juice cleanse. So the idea that you need juice to detoxify doesn’t really hold up.
That being said, increasing your daily intake of fruits and vegetables can have measurable benefits to the body over the long term (according to the CDC [United States Centers for Disease Control], adults should eat at least one and a half to two cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables per day, depending on their age and some other factors). Those benefits include:
• Boosted immune system — Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals, so consuming more of each can help improve your immune system.
• Improved digestion — Fruits and vegetables are also full of fiber, which can help support a healthy digestive system, help you maintain regular bowel movements, and improve gut health.
• Increased energy — Healthier foods, including fruits and veggies, can provide steady energy that lasts throughout the day, reducing the likelihood of a midday crash that may happen after eating junk food, especially foods that are high in processed sugar.
That’s not to say that juice cleanses don’t live up to any of their promises. It’s possible that if you switched from eating junk food to drinking only water and fruit and veggie juices, you’d lose weight as a result of a calorie deficit, or may feel more energetic initially due to the increased amount of nutrients in your system. However, the drastic change in diet would likely have you feeling tired after too long, and you may be missing other necessary elements of a healthy diet, such as protein and fat, that your body needs to function well.
As with any major switch in your diet, we recommended that you discuss details with your primary care physician first. They can help you develop a plan that promotes whole-body wellness.
Although many people claim to follow juice cleanse regimens without serious side effects, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s important to note that many people who publicly share their juice cleanse experiences are influencers, who are getting paid or sponsored in some way to sell a particular product.
Because of their restrictive natures, here are some risks and possible side effects to consider when deciding whether or not to do a juice cleanse:
Juice cleanses are much lower in calories than most people’s normal diets, so there is a higher risk of experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar such as headache, dizziness, weakness, dehydration, and increased hunger. Juice cleanses are also likely to be missing proteins, necessary fatty acids, and other essential nutrients; this can starve your cells and organs of necessary elements, causing damage.
Although juice cleanses may result in weight loss, that change in weight is often short-lived. More-sustainable and less drastic ways to lose weight, with the guidance of a healthcare provider, are typically more effective for people who want to lose weight.
Many blends for juice cleanses are unpasteurized, which means there is a higher likelihood they may contain bacteria. This can be especially problematic for people who have compromised immune systems, who are pregnant, or who have some underlying medical issues.
Juice cleanses can be harmful for people with kidney disorders, as some juices contain high levels of oxalate that contribute to kidney stones and other kidney issues.
Before starting a juice cleanse, discuss your goals and your plans with your healthcare provider — drastic dietary changes can have serious health implications, and juice cleanses should be done under medical supervision.
Juice cleanses are frequently done in stages:
During the preparation phase, one might gradually eliminate caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and refined sugar from their diet, in addition to harder-to-digest foods like red meat — replacing eliminated food with fresh fruits and vegetables (and plenty of water and other fluids).
During the cleanse itself, one might replace solid food with a set of juices and smoothies that supply well-balanced nutrition. For instance, a day’s juice intake might include juices made from leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, citrus fruits, apples and other fruits, almonds and other nuts, and spices and aromatics like ginger and cayenne pepper.
After the cleanse, eat lightly and gradually add foods over the course of a couple or several days.
If you like the idea of a juice cleanse but aren’t too interested in drinking only green liquid for a week, here are some alternatives that may have similar benefits.
Adding more fruits and veggies to your diet, whether with juice, with a supplemental smoothie, or in your meals, will allow you to benefit from additional vitamins and fiber.
Drinking adequate amounts of water can help in digestion.
Cutting out highly processed foods can reduce digestive issues, alleviate sluggishness, help you maintain a healthy weight, and help increase energy levels. Cutting down on (or eliminating) caffeine, alcohol, corn starch, processed sugars, and saturated fats can help you detox your body.
For some people whose diets do not allow them to get needed nutrients from food, taking a supplement can be a great way to get additional vitamins and nutrients in your diet.
Before any drastic change to your diet, it’s wise to discuss your health goals with your primary care provider, to see if the change is right for you. At Carbon Health, our providers are standing by to help you make informed decisions about your health. Schedule a virtual or in-person appointment today.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.