Going on a juice cleanse, or drinking nothing but pressed juices extracted from fruits and vegetables for a few days or weeks, has been all the rage over the past few years. The idea sounds like a good one — after all, who wouldn't want to combat the effects of a wild night out or a life of indulgent eating with a few days or weeks of "detox" to rid your body of lurking toxins? They're backed by celebrities and celebrity doctors alike, so it's no wonder that drinking your diet has been steadily gaining popularity. But is following a juice cleanse safe? Get the facts below, and then decide whether to juice or not to juice!
What's the Appeal?
Many of juicing's benefits are more anecdotal than scientifically based; chances are you know an enthusiastic juicing friend or two. Many claim that juicing vegetables and fruits allows you to absorb the nutrients easier than eating them, since less digestive work is needed. Proponents also claim that following a juice-only diet can help your body detox, which may lead to more energy, clearer skin, and fewer digestive and other health issues. With high-profile juicing fans like Nicole Richie, Salma Hayek, and Gwyneth Paltrow and it-changed-my-life testimonials like Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead — a documentary about a man's 60-day all-juice diet and his subsequent healthy transformation — it's no wonder the popularity of going on an all-juice diet has only grown.
Does It Work?
The lack of peer-reviewed studies on the effects of juicing has led to conflicting information about whether it's a do or a don't. Most experts, however, agree that going on a juice fast is unnecessary for ridding your body of toxins. Our liver and kidneys are already effective at eliminating any unneeded waste, so following a liquid-based diet won't help any more than normal, although giving up junk foods and processed ingredients can only help give your digestive system a rest.
A juice-based diet can be a good way of getting far more phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables than you could normally eat, and going on a "detox" for a few days can also help jump-start a commitment to a healthier diet. Many experts, like Dr. Frank Lipman, tout the psychological effect of going on a juice fast, like motivating you to be healthier overall or feeling like you can think more clearly. Juice programs also promise you'll end your cleanse with a clearer, less foggy mind; more nutrients in your diet; and, possibly, weight loss.
Will You Lose Weight?
While most big-name juice cleanses won't promise weight loss at the end of your detox, it's not unusual for people to go on one hoping to drop a few pounds (which some juice companies call a "side effect" of their programs). But be aware that weight loss doesn't happen for everyone, since many juice cleanse programs already include an adequate amount of calories, and any weight you lose will most likely come back as soon as you reintroduce solid foods, especially if you fall back into unhealthy eating habits. "When people go into a cleanse thinking that it's the solution to their weight issue, they're in for a big surprise," says trainer Heidi Powell. "They might drop some weight, but as soon as the cleanse is over, most likely their weight is going to come back. It's important that if you do start your diet with a cleanse that you have a plan for when the cleanse is up."
Another weight-related downfall: going on a cleanse usually means you aren't fueling your body adequately for a normal workout routine. Taking an intense Tabata class while on a juice cleanse? Not a good mix. Some programs recommend you limit your activity to walks and low-impact exercise while you detox, which means you're burning far fewer calories than you could be — and missing out on metabolism-boosting, muscle-building workouts as well. While it's not always a bad idea to give your body a rest, if you're trying to lose weight and are thinking of going on a juice cleanse to do so, its effect on your workout routine is something to consider.
What Are the Risks?
Depending on your particular program, detox diets like juice fasts may cause many different problems, like dehydration, nausea, or fatigue. They can also cause you to miss out on other much-needed nutrients like fiber and protein while filling you up on too much sugar, which is why celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak calls juice cleanses "the worst things ever." "You are essentially starving yourself for a period of time while on the cleanse, and when you're done, your body will fight back to gain back what it lost," he tells us. "There is no protein in juice. There is no fiber in juice. There are no healthy fats in juice. The amount of produce that you would need to create a sizable beverage or juice is a calorie bomb and full of sugar." Instead, Harley recommends smoothies over juice in order to get those important nutrients from the seeds and skin of your produce.
How to Do It Right
If you're convinced that a juice cleanse is right for you, first do your research. "Make sure you know what's in the juice so it's all-natural," says Tracey Mallett, a trainer and founder of The Booty Barre. Most high-profile cleanses like BluePrint and Ritual Cleanse are made from organic, raw ingredients, but be sure you understand exactly what's going into the bottle before you commit. And don't forget about calorie counts! Whether or not your chosen cleanse is as restrictive as going on a Master Cleanse, one program may have you ingesting fewer than 500 calories a day, while others allow you to drink as much juice as you want or incorporate eating fresh, whole foods as well. Do your research so you know whether or not you'll be getting all the nutrients and calories you need, and talk to your doctor before you start a detox program.
Once you've found a good option, don't just go straight from greasy foods to green juices. Dr. Oz recommends that you never start a juice fast without first ensuring that you are eating a normal nutrient-rich diet for at least a month. Many juice cleanses involve a precleanse program of eliminating foods like dairy, caffeine, and alcohol before starting the cleanse, so be sure to follow their instructions.
An even healthier, fiber-filled option? Skip the fast, and eat the same fruits and vegetables you'd find in a cleanse, supplementing with juice for an extra dose of nutrients (for an easy way to do this, try one of our healthy smoothie recipes). If you're looking to add a healthy juice or two to your daily diet to boost energy or get more nutrients, try a few of these recipes below:
Choosing the right juicer is also important. Read our guide to the top five juicing machines before you buy.