With hashtags like #healing, #miracle, and #foodasmedicine, you might think the latest trend taking over Instagram involves the fountain of youth or the cure for cancer. But these glowing descriptors refer to none other than the juice of your ordinary lunchbox veggie: celery.
Wait, celery? Like, ants-on-a-log, bits-in-your-tuna-salad celery? Even as a licensed nutritionist, I’ve never been too impressed with the nutrient profile of this humble vegetable. To me, celery has always seemed like a low-calorie choice for a light afternoon snack or for adding extra crunch to soups, not much more. But could I be wrong? And could juicing be the key to unlocking celery’s untold health benefits?
The Health Claims
The health claims surrounding celery juice are, admittedly, pretty bold. According to Medical Medium Anthony William, Instagram’s most famous celery juice evangelist, drinking the stuff can heal eczema, psoriasis, and acne. It also theoretically reduces bloating, fights autoimmune disease, tackles acid reflux, and eradicates bacteria and viruses. Other proponents have declared it contains “detoxifying properties that cleanse the body of all germs and toxins.” (Mmkay, we may have to draw the line there.)
Still, dramatic personal testimonies are hard to argue with. Side-by-side before-and-after photos show a woman with severe acne, now radiant with post-celery juice clear skin. Various bloggers attest that celery juice on an empty stomach first thing in the morning has led to weight loss, improved digestion, and even “a feeling of zen bliss.” How do you account for that?
The Experts Weigh In
While Medical Medium Anthony William may have 1.4 million Instagram followers, he does not actually possess any medical or nutrition degrees. So, to get the bottom of what’s legit and what’s not, I dug into the science and spoke to some credentialed nutrition professionals to see what they have to say about celery juice. (And oh, boy, do they have a lot to say about it.)
First of all, what’s so great about celery? Is there anything inherent in this unassuming veggie that makes it more nutritious than, say, cucumbers or carrots? Probably not. Celery does contain large amounts of vitamin K, which keeps blood clotting normally and may reduce bone loss. And it boasts smaller amounts of important nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate—all in an extremely low-calorie package of 16 calories per cup. But all vegetables contain vitamins and minerals, and compared with many others, celery is low in fiber and other nutrients you might hope to get in a vegetable, like magnesium or calcium.
Even so, any veggie is a good veggie. “Celery, like many vegetables, is a rich source of flavonoids,” says registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, CDE, author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet. “These flavonoids have been found to help fight against chronic disease and may ward off inflammation.” A 2017 review of nine studies concluded that celery also had high antioxidant activity. “These antioxidants can prevent cell damage and protect against chronic disease,” says clinical nutritionist Josh Axe, DC, DNM.
Do we really need to juice it, though?
If celery is a healthy choice, why go to the trouble of juicing it? Wouldn’t we do just as well crunching some with a side of ranch? “Eating celery will provide you with the same phytochemicals and flavonoids that are found in celery juice,” confirms Palinski-Wade. “The benefit [of juicing] is that you can consume these nutrients in larger quantities by juicing as compared to eating large quantities of celery each day, which may not always be practical.”
But some see major drawbacks to the juicing phenomenon. “Juicing anything generally removes or significantly breaks down fibers in the food product, which is not ideal,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RDN. “Those fibers help us feel full, and the act of chewing is satiating in itself.” Plus, if it’s vitamins A or K you’re after from celery, these nutrients are both fat-soluble, meaning that eating them with fat helps your body absorb them. So that side of ranch may be the better way to go, after all.
On the whole, many credentialed health pros view celery juice with far more skepticism than enthusiasm. According to Moreno, jumping on the juice bandwagon “is just profoundly misguided and will not confer any more ‘benefits’ than eating celery would confer. There is no clinical or anecdotal evidence that is convincing enough for me to recommend or personally drink celery juice.” Some have gone a step further in their criticism of the trend. Registered dietitian and frequent media commentator Abby Langer, RD, called out the Medical Medium on Twitter for promoting “classic charlatan BS” and has dismissed celery juicing as “pure idiocy.”
Even Dr. Axe, known for his more alternative approach to healing through diet, doesn’t think the craze lives up to its hype. “Many people mistakenly believe that consuming a few servings of celery juice—or any other ‘superfood’—can be a quick fix for better health. However, celery juice alone is unlikely to have much of an impact on health, especially if it’s paired with a poor diet and lack of physical activity,” he says.
But what if you really love the stuff?
For those who feel their lives have been transformed by celery juice, the opinions of experts may not hold a candle to personal experience. It’s true that everybody is different, and science can’t account for every individual response to food. So, if you feel celery juice gives you more energy, reduces bloating, or clears up your acne, rock on with your green self. Just note that there’s power in the placebo effect, which may account for your results more than any miraculous properties of celery. “The placebo effect is strong enough to cure or kill,” Moreno says—and when it comes to the “cure,” that’s not a bad thing.
Plus, though celery juice may not be the miracle elixir its proponents believe, is there really anything wrong with drinking it? Couldn’t you make a lot worse choices in your diet? “There are no harmful side effects to drinking celery juice, and it may provide some health benefits,” Palinski-Wade says. “If you are drinking celery juice and enjoying it, there’s no reason to stop.” Moreno agrees. “If someone adores their celery juice like I adore my daily yogurt, I would say go for it! We should all eat foods we love and look forward to.”
Then again, if you’re thinking of planting a celery garden and dropping a wad of cash on a juicer that’s going to take up all of your kitchen storage, you may want to think again. For good health, most dietitians emphasize eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables—not just celery and definitely not just juiced. It may sound boring, but the road to better health is often rooted more in these common-sense principles and less in social media trends.