Juice bars are popping up on street corners in hip urban neighborhoods. Health clubs and health food stores are promoting their juice cleanse programs. Wellness gurus are touting the benefits of detoxing the body with special juice blends. And, online juice companies are offering daily or weekly juicing regimens, conveniently delivered to your door at the bargain price of $50+ per day.
With all the hype, curious minds and health-conscious folks want to know – what is this whole juicing thing really all about? Are juice cleanses healthy? And, should I be juicing, too?
Why are juice cleanses so popular?
Depending on who you ask, the purported benefits include everything from reversing autoimmune diseases, to jump-starting weight loss, to preventing Alzheimer’s, to curing cancer.
Many believe that juicing is an effective way to help your body rid itself of harmful toxins, reduce inflammation, and boost immunity.
Some may not even sure why they are doing it, other than “it just seems healthy.”
So is it the case that juicing and drinking our produce really offers substantial health benefits over chewing it? Or, does juicing just provide an illusion of health, aligning itself with the clean eating trend, allowing us to feel virtuous and pure?
What does the evidence say?
I will say that, any time the list of possible benefits associated with a health trend appears to be never-ending and seemingly too good to be true, my alarm bells start to ring. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to write it off immediately. It just means that before I buy in, a little due diligence is in order.
The problem is, when I look for the evidence – studies from researchers that have been published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals – there is none. My search yields pages and pages of results for websites that praise the powers of juicing and blogs with anecdotal story after story about how juicing has cured ailments and saved lives, but no scientifically valid studies to support any of these claims.
Moreover, those pro-juicing search results almost always have a device, program, book, or other essential product that you need to purchase, from them, to experience those too-good-to-be-true sounding results they speak of, for yourself.
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So, does that mean that all claims about juice cleanses are false?
It is true that juicing is a really convenient way to pack a lot of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and phytochemicals (antioxidants and other health-promoting compounds) that we get from produce into a small glass. You can take a larger quantity of fruits and vegetables than you’d likely be able to eat, juice them up and condense them down into a single, easy-to-drink portion, while maintaining most of the nutritional integrity of the food. In other words, you get much of the nutrition with a lot less of the bulk.
Many of the claims that are made about juicing stem from this fact – that the concentration of important micronutrients and other compounds is higher in fresh juice than it is in raw foods (again, because of the reduction in bulky fiber) – and rest on the notion that if some vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals are good for improving health, then more must be better.
So, while it’s true that getting enough health-promoting nutrients and compounds in our diet is important for supporting health, may help reduce risk for some illnesses and improve others, and may bolster the body’s natural detoxification processes (our liver and kidneys are pretty awesome at this), it is false to say that juicing is the only, or even the best, way to do this.
You can still meet your body’s nutrient needs without juicing. More does not always equal better as we typically don’t need megadoses of vitamins and minerals to support health. And, in fact, megadoses of almost any substance can carry its own set of harms. (Yes, it is possible to overdose on some vitamins and minerals!)
The bottom line: While juicing may be convenient, it’s certainly not necessary.
Additionally, even if we do choose to juice, incorporating whole fruits and vegetables into our diet is still a good idea as they contain critically important fiber that will be missing in the juice.
In addition to contributing to feelings of fullness, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels, and reducing levels of harmful LDL-cholesterol in the blood, fiber also plays an important role in helping the body to transport and eliminate waste products (or, as some might say, “detox”).
It’s important to note that there is a difference between juicing as part of a balanced, health-supportive eating plan and juice fasting. Juice fasting is essentially limiting intake entirely to juice concoctions, which will be rich in many nutrients, but severely deficient in others (for example, protein and fat) that are essential to proper body functioning and health.
Juice fasting can also be harmful to health because:
- It can lead to muscle atrophy and slowed metabolism. So, while it’s true that weight loss may result simply due to the sheer inadequacy of energy intake (not because there is anything inherently weight loss promoting about the juice), the body will respond by slowing metabolism and catabolizing muscle protein. Weight loss through these means is rarely sustainable once a person returns to their typical eating patterns, which is all but inevitable, since a juice fast cannot sustain life long-term. .
- If juices contain a high concentration of fruit, they may also contain a high concentration of sugar. Without the moderating effects of fiber to slow down the rate at which that sugar enters the blood, there might also be significant fluctuations in blood sugar levels, resulting in blood sugar levels peaking, then plummeting. As a result you may notice your energy level “crashing” and may even find yourself craving carbohydrate-rich foods as your body tries to restore homeostasis.
- As previously mentioned, juice may provide a megadose of some nutrients, while being totally deficient in others, such as fat, protein, and fiber. All of these nutrients play unique and essential roles in regulating body processes and supporting health. Prolonged, insufficient intake will compromise health.
Still wondering… “could I benefit from a juice cleanse?”
The answer is maybe.
Juicing might be a good fit for you if…
- You find the contents enjoyable to drink;
- It serves as a convenient way to give your body a boost of vitamins and minerals;
- It complements your regular eating of solid foods, without displacing other important food groups.
Juicing may not be a good fit for you if…
- You don’t enjoy drinking juice;
- It’s something you do because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do, not necessarily what you want to do;
- You find that it does displace solid food and/or other food groups therefore compromising the balance and adequacy of your intake;
- It negatively impacts your health (for example, high sugar fruit juices may cause spikes in blood sugar values).
There are probably many more reasons why it may not be a good fit than are listed here.
Ultimately, there really is no “right” answer when it comes to this topic and whether or not juicing is something you choose to do. Juicing might be a great way to give your body a boost of nutrition, but if taken to the extreme, it may actually lead to severe nutritional deficiencies and harm overall health.
If this is something that you are considering, you may want to spend some time reflecting on why you are considering it. Being clear with yourself about what your expectations are is useful for determining whether or not this will be the best or most helpful approach.
If your concern is really centered around figuring out how to change your diet and eating behaviors to resolve weight worries and better support your overall health, a stay at Green Mountain at Fox Run might be exactly what you are looking for. Call us at 802-228-8885 to learn about how we can help you find balance and peace with food while making sustainable, health-supportive changes to the way you eat.