Want to take a break from solid food in favor of liquefied fruits and vegetables? Welcome to juice cleansing. While detoxing the body with spinach-apple-ginger juice or cashew milk may sound appealing (…or not), with their popularity growing — heck, it's even turned into the latest form of office bonding — the benefits and safety of juice fasts are still up for debate.
Going Green — Why It Matters
While it may be okay to look to celebs for fashion advice, don't start drinking from the celebrity health-tips well so fast. Juice cleanses are not only a fad— but they may not even provide all the benefits they tout. In one small study, one week of juice fasting led to a sudden decrease in LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and triacylglycerol levels, but the levels returned to normal just one week later Effects of one week juice fasting on lipid metabolism: a cohort study in healthy subjects. Huber, R, Hauck, M, Ludtke, R, et al. Ambulanz für Naturheilverfahren/Abteilung Innere Medizin II, Universitätsklinik Freiburg. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd, 2003 Feb;10(1):7-10..
But while drinking only fruit and vegetable juice for days on end might not sound so fun, it's probably healthier and more delicious than the Master Cleanse alternative (lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water… only!). Before trying to choose a detox of any kind, give the whole thing a second thought. The colon, kidneys, and liver naturally remove most toxins— like alcohol and chemicals that enter the body through everyday processes like breathing and drinking water— from the body, making any kind of "detox diet" potentially pointless. Besides, those quick pounds lost as a result of fasting are typically just from water weight. Since juice cleanses reduce caloric intake, the body releases glycogen (a carbohydrate) for extra energy. Glycogen holds onto water, so when it's used, water (and its weight) is also lost Glycogen storage: illusions of easy weight loss, excessive weight regain, and distortions in estimates of body composition. Kreitzman, S.N., Coxon, A.Y., Szaz, K.F. Howard Foundation Research, Cambridge, UK. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1992 Jul;56:292S-293S.. Unfortunately, this water weight is usually gained right back when the cleanse is over.
Not So (Juice) Fast — The Answer/Debate
Despite what Gwyneth might say, there’s no scientific proof touting the benefits of replacing food with juicy concoctions. And many doctors believe detox diets aren't all that helpful and may even be harmful to our bodies. Some researchers note that depriving the body of nutrient rich food could weaken its ability to fight infections Parasite infection and caloric restriction induce physiological and morphological plasticity. Kristan, D.M., Hammond, K.A. Department of Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA. American Journal of Physiology, 2001 Aug;281(2):R502-10.. And since calories literally mean energy, reducing caloric intake can lead to fatigue and dizziness. Lean muscle mass may also be lost if the body is continuously deprived of protein. (And sorry, turkey chili sounds way more appetizing than carrot juice for dinner.)
Losing weight doesn't mean succumbing to a liquid diet. Regular exercise and eating well are habits that are easier to stick to and will help shed some pounds at a steady rate— and keep them off. And remember, if looking to detox or lose weight, there are safer (and more delicious) ways to tip the scale. Besides, the wallet will surely get a beating from a juice cleanse, too (some of the more popular cleanses cost more than $50 a day!) Splurge on a healthful dinner out instead.
Have you ever tried a cleanse? Are they all the rage, or do they fall flat?
While juice-only diets could cause a little weight loss, it's likely not to last longer than the cleanse itself. As far as the "cleaning" aspect, we're afraid the body does a better job of that all by it's lonesome.
Photo by Caitlin Covington