Do Juice Cleanses Actually Work? Health Experts Reveal The Truth
Celebrities, Instagram influencers, your best friend — it seems like everyone is jumping on the juice cleanse train. Subsisting on cold-pressed juice for a short period of time is believed to have detoxifying benefits that include more radiant skin, increased energy, and improved mood. But with so many mixed reviews and thoughts out there, it begs the question: Do juice cleanses actually work?
But while detox programs have gained traction over the past few years, the idea of an internal reset is nothing new. "The general concept of body detoxification is thousands of years old," explains Golan Raz, head of global health division at Lycored. "Our body absorbs substances from the food we eat, the oxygen we breathe, and the environment we live in. While part of the substances the body absorbs are supportive to our physical wellness, others are not as much. A portion of those substances have the potential to be toxic to our physical system."
Especially post-holidays — and in the midst of your New Year's resolutions — you may be tempted try a juice cleanse, yourself. But before you run out and buy 20 pounds of organic produce (or gallons of pricey, pre-made concoctions), there are a few things you should know.
Ahead, health pros de-mystify five common juice cleanse misconceptions, while sharing their tips on how to refresh your body the right way. If you thought you were ready to liquify your diet for the next few days, step away from the juicer, and read this first.
Juice Cleanse Urban Myths
#1: It Will Detox Your Body
While consuming antioxidant-rich superfoods is undoubtedly beneficial, the idea that they can course through your body and rid toxins along the way is actually a myth. "Our kidneys, lymph system, and liver are the true detoxifying tools of the body," clarifies Nicole Centeno, founder and CEO of Splendid Spoon, which delivers ready-to-eat, plant-based soups and smoothies. "Nothing you eat is going to do as good a job as them."
Dr. Haider Al-Hilaly, a general practitioner based in the UK, backs this up. "Our body detoxifies itself through the digestive tract, liver, lungs and kidneys. Juice cleanses may contain less calories and fat than normal meals and make us lose weight, but they don't 'detoxify' anything."
#2: It'll Provide All The Nutrients You Need
Sure, fresh-pressed juice is choc-full of vitamins and minerals, but by default, it's missing one key nutrient your body needs. "Juices strip fruits and veggies of one of nature’s most powerful tools for health: insoluble fiber," says Centeno. "Fiber slows down the absorption of sugars and creates more even energy levels, plus it keeps your gut in great shape by keeping things moving and creating a happy home for good bacteria."
#3: Juice Cleanses Should Last For Several Days
While multi-day liquid diets may be trendy, Centeno says to limit the timeframe you abstain from solid foods. As far as the duration of a juice cleanse, "I suggest one day as being extreme enough for most, and no more than three without a doctor's supervision," she advises. "Depending on body type and activity levels, the body can start to go into a stressed state after extended periods of time on significantly decreased calories. This is especially true for women."
#4: Green Juices Are Full Of Veggies
While fresh-pressed fruit makes juices a lot more palatable, a truly balanced juice should have an emphasis on veggies. "A common mistake when doing a cleanse is going too heavy on fruit juices," points out Jessica Young, founder and CEO Bubble, an online store that sells curated health foods. "You have to understand that just because a juice is green doesn’t mean that it isn’t mainly filled with fruits. Just a few leaves of spinach can turn a juice green."
In fact, juice that's primarily fruit can cause blood sugar spikes and drops on par with eating a chocolate bar. "There are also no fibers in juice, which means it hits your bloodstream right away," Young continues. "Too much fruit can lead to too much sugar, and this can pose reverse effects."
#5: It'll Make Up For A Period Of "Bad" Eating
Now that the holidays leftovers are finally gone, a cleanse may sound appealing -- but it shouldn't be done out of frustration. "Restriction and punishment are not invited to my version of the cleanse," says Centeno. "They perpetuate the myth that we need to control our bodies."
Instead, she believes that cleanses should be an opportunity to get in touch with your unique nutritional needs, and juice-based ones should last no more than 24 hours. "Our body is a friend and a great teacher of what we need physically and emotionally," she continues. "If we are using a cleanse day as a platform for self-judgement, then we are perpetuating a negative relationship with the body. If, instead, we can see the cleanse day as a quieter day where we can listen to the body, we’ll start fo feel a lot better. We want to feel at home in our body, so it’s good to be kind to it."
The Right Way To Cleanse
All that said, cleanses certainly aren't all bad. When done correctly, they can help you feel refreshed while providing health-boosting benefits. The trick is to reframe your mindset: Re-define what a cleanse actually is, consider ways to incorporate it into a healthy lifestyle, and think of it as a loving form of self-care.
Know What A "Cleanse" Really Does
While food itself cannot "detox" your body, it can nourish and support the organs that do. "The right diet, supported with close and personalized professional advice, can help our body to get rid of toxins and support a growing sense of wellness and well-being," says Raz. "Diverse fruits and vegetables contain different groups of nutrients. The 'secret' can be found in combining the types that are naturally synergistic; in other words, will work in cooperation to provide us with a safe and natural cleansing effect." For example, he says, "a combination can be a mix of green leaves together with fresh quality coconut water enriched with ginger or curcumin. Another popular 'base' is fresh carrot juice. The carrot is sweet and it contains sufficient levels of the well-known carotenoid beta carotene."
Think Of Fresh Juice As A Supplement, Not A Diet
Young emphasizes that while you shouldn't subsist on juice alone, it can be a nutritious addition to a clean-eating lifestyle. "Think of it like a salad in a bottle where you’re bound to get all of the vitamins and nutrients you need in a day," she says. "Make sure to take it easy and use juicing mainly as a supplement to your plant-rich diet as opposed to a cleansing purpose."
"Cleanse" With Whole Foods (Yes, You Can Chew)
To give your body an effective refresh the healthy way, Young suggests "cleansing" for about a month by eating whole, organic foods (check out these mouthwatering recipes). "A mashup of an Ayurvedic [eating for healing, according to your body] and a Whole 30 mindset is a great way to cleanse," she says. "For breakfast, you can start off with granola, fruits, or smoothies. Then get in your proteins in the middle of the day, a perfect time to easily digest." She adds that making sure your body gets everything it needs each day -- including calories -- is of utmost importance.
But if you can't commit to 30 days, that's okay. Centeno points out that just one day of squeaky-clean eating can give you a jump-start. "People think that cleanses are about white-knuckled discipline and they don’t need to be," she says. "A day without processed food, where you can eat without negotiating between take out or granola bars, should be seen as a rest day for your body and mind." She notes that you should eat when you're hungry, but choose a snack that's rich in protein and complex carbs. "A cleanse day invites all your body’s signals in and you absolutely have permission to respond to them," she says.
Take Your Activity Level Into Account
Those who exercise should take their activity level into consideration before making any dietary changes, especially when it comes to cutting calories. "Think about your physical lifestyle," begins Centeno. "Are you doing an intense cycling class most days? Are you more of the active type who gets exercise by running from meeting to meeting each day? Or are you more of the slow burn where a good yoga class once a week does it for you? It’s important to take into account activity level because most cleanse or reset days are lower in calories. If you are more active, you’ll likely need to supplement with a few whole-food snacks."
Consider It A Form Of Self-Care
If you're a first-time cleanser, try starting off by eating a whole, natural diet one day a week. That day, says Centeno, should be focused on doing what's best for your body. "A cleanse day is equal parts discipline and self-care," she says. "Yes, it takes discipline to say 'no' to treats and processed foods for a day. And yes, a cleanse day can be about being good to yourself. [By eating a regimented diet] you are releasing your mind from choosing all of your meals for a day, so it’s also natural for emotions or complex thought patterns to come up." It addition to eating, she suggests incorporating other forms of self-care into this cleanse day. "Keep a journal on you that day and write down what comes up. At the end of the day, try to wind down early with a bedtime ritual like a bath or gratitude exercise in your journal."
She concludes, "Taking time to reset is not about weight or how your body looks. It’s about improving your relationship with food so that you feel proud of what you are putting in your body. It’s about how food can make you feel really great."