Nutrition FAQ: Should I do a juice cleanse ?

Hey everyone! I’m going to start addressing nutrition FAQs more often here on the blog space. I sometimes ask for your FAQs on Instagram and I promise I screenshot every response and will slowly work through them. Today I want to address juice cleanses. I get asked “should I do a juice cleanse?” pretty regularly and feel it’s worth touching upon. And also, for all you celery-curious people, please note I am working on an entire separate post devoted to celery juice coming soon.

And in case you didn’t know, as of next year I will be shifting my academic focus back to nutrition, and I’m excited! I have loved my environmental health science and public health degree and will always strive to integrate and apply them to my nutrition studies, but at the same time, I’m pumped to get back to the nitty gritty of nutrition science!

For now, please enjoy a brief overview of why I don’t recommend juice cleansing.

Disclaimer: As always, this is general information intended for healthy, non-pregnant or breastfeeding adults. Your needs may vary based on medical status or life-stage. Please never replace generalized health information you’ve read online with individualized clinical care.

1. There is very little scientific evidence to support the alleged health claims.

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Companies frequently take advantage of well-intending vulnerable people who are simply looking to improve their health by using sexy health words such as ‘detox,’ ‘cleanse,’ and ‘pure,’ and by promising things like weight-loss. Yet, there is very little science to support the claims they make.

In fact, some studies suggest they may be dangerous for those with kidney disease due to the high level of oxalates. Does this mean that drinking juice occasionally is terrible for most healthy people? No. It does not. But if you have kidney issues, juicing may do more harm than good.

The only study I have been able to find that supports the use of a juice cleanse was this study, which suggested it may change the microbiome…but this study used a small sample size and results were not sustained 3 weeks later upon resumption of normal diet. Also, I’m just going to point out the obvious here – of course when you take subjects who consume little fruits and vegetables and completely change their diet their microbiome will change! But this doesn’t mean juice is a magic bullet. I would have been curious to see how a diet of whole fruits and vegetables changed the microbiome of subjects as a comparison, but that wasn’t included. The only sustained change was a self-reported ‘wellness score,’ which the authors didn’t care to define.

…And that was the best study I could find! There is no evidence for any other tangible health benefits. I couldn’t find any studies that suggest they benefit they lead to any long-term health benefits. Weight-loss may occur, but usually isn’t sustained upon resumption of eating a normal diet.

2. Juicing doesn’t ‘detox’ your body. Your liver and your kidney do that for you.

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I don’t know how many times I say this, but just in case you haven’t heard me scream it out-loud enough times: you do not need any pills, teas, vitamins, supplements, or cleanses to ‘detox’ your body. Your livers and your kidney do a great job of removing toxins that are possible for you to remove. There is no evidence that any food or dietary supplement detoxifies your body in any way.

So no, you don’t need to ‘undo’ that piece of cake you ate or ‘flush the toxins out of your system,’ by drinking detox tea or potions. I actually find it a bit humorous that so many people who go to great lengths to ‘detox’ also don’t think twice about dying their hair, using many brands of cosmetics, wearing clothes or sleeping on mattresses that are covered in flame retardants, or using nonstick pains.

If you want to decrease toxins you’re exposed to, maybe focus on things like not buying furniture covered in flame retardants, avoiding non-stick pans and BPA, and reducing consumption of pesticides by washing your produce, and/or buying organic when possible. Doing this will reduce toxin exposure, whereas juice cleansing will do nothing to ‘remove toxins’ from your body.

3. Yes fruits and vegetables are good for you. But fresh whole fruits and vegetables are better than juiced fruits and vegetables.

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Juicing fruits and vegetables removes a lot of the pulp and skin. Both of these are major losses, as they contain a bulk of the dietary fiber. Dietary fiber helps keep you satiated (meaning you stay fuller longer), and adequate consumption has been shown to decrease risks of diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

Additionally, tossing the outer layers of fruits and vegetables often means tossing a bulk of the (typically good-for-you) antioxidants and phytochemicals, as both are contained in the skin.

And then, of course, there is the whole issue of light exposure and micronutrient stability. A lot of juices are bottled in glass or clear plastic, and many vitamins and minerals start to degrade when exposed to light or air (fun fact, this is why milk containers are usually tinted). Unless you’re consuming the juices immediately after pressing, it’s likely that you are losing some of the micronutrient content of original pieces of produce.

4. A lot of times, they are not nutritionally adequate.

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Short term, juice cleanses are typical not nutritionally adequate. To live your happiest, healthiest life, a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat are all essential. Most juices fall short in the fat and protein categories, and most miss things like omega-3 fatty acids.

Although I’m very pro-carb, the lack of fat and protein in most juice cleanses, I caution against omitting ample amounts of protein and fat from your diet, as you will not only likely find yourself less than satiated, but both are essential to long-term well being.

5. They are usually crazy expensive.

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Juice cleanses are a prime example of how the health food world manipulates consumers into spending money. Juices

Most juice cleanses come at a steep price. Rather than spend hundreds of your hard-earned dollars on a juice cleanse that will likely do you little good, I suggest investing that money in healthful, delicious groceries you enjoy eating over a longer stretch of time. That way, your health dollars will stretch further, and you can engage in healthful habits that are actually possible to maintain.

Take Home Point:

When it comes to health, think big picture instead of quick fix, and think nutrient-dense foods and overall health instead of focusing on detoxes and weight-loss. If you’re looking to improve your diet, my best general advice for normal health adults is to try filling up on nutrient-dense, plant-based foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds,  and whole grains most of the time, and then don’t worry about the rest.

PS: This is actually an extension of something I started on YouTube over break. I plan to get back to videos now that I have my space back and am not traveling around the country weekly (I type these words as I sit on the Amtrak to DC…).

If you’d like to watch, please see below:

Hope you enjoyed this “Nutrition FAQs: Should I do a juice cleanse?” video. Leave me your burning Qs in the comments below, on InstagramTwitter, or YouTube.

Peace, love, and Millie bean!

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