Here’s an idea: what if we all stopped eating for a few days, maybe a week, in the hopes of becoming healthier people?
That doesn’t sound quite right, does it? It certainly doesn’t sound like fun, either. That’s the basic idea behind juicing, however, and any cleanses that involve consuming only juice for a period of time or skipping meals and subbing in juice instead.
Whether it lasts a day, a week, or more, juice cleanses encourage taking a break from eating solid food and consuming only fruit and vegetables that have been sent through a juicer first. The motivation for partaking in this likely varies from person to person, including weight loss or getting more vitamins from what they drink. One juice provider suggests that a cleanse is a chance to give your body a break, while another promises it will reset your brain and your body.
The idea of a fresh start is certainly attractive, but is that something most bodies actually need? And, could there be adverse side effects that come with such a drastic lifestyle change? We turned to the experts who know best and got some insight into the health effects of going on a juice cleanse.
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Juice Cleanse Nutrition Facts
Getting enough fruits and vegetables each day isn’t always easy. At the bare minimum, we’re supposed to be eating at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits each day. For those who are struggling to meet that goal, drinking juice made from whole produce may seem like a good way to increase your serving count. While juice can provide some of the vitamins that come from fruit or veggies, it isn’t a good substitute for eating the un-juiced version. This is because juicing actually robs them of something very import—fiber.
“When you’re juicing, you’re taking literally just the juice from any fruits and vegetables and you’re losing out on all of that fiber,” says registered dietitian Justine Hays MS, R.D., CDN. “It’s that fiber that can do all these wonderful things for your body.”
Among the awesome things that fiber can do for your health, Hays points out that the fiber in vegetables and fruit can help keep you fuller for longer. It helps to regulate bowel movements and can even play a role in the prevention of disease. Fiber has also been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol.
Diet right. If you’re inspired to make some changes in the way you eat, make sure they’re not too drastic. Any diet that eliminates an entire food group may provide short-term results, but they won’t be sustainable. Instead, commit to eating high-quality meals with nutrient-dense foods.
There is also the issue of sugar. Of course, fruit juice is full of natural sugar and it is 100% an OK part of a balanced diet. That being said, psychologist and registered dietitian, Ellen Albertson, PhD, RDN, NBC-HWC, points out that the sugar being consumed in fruit juice is pretty concentrated, with several pieces going into a single glass.
“You’re getting a huge load of sugar,” she says. “I’m not against having fruits, it’s natural sugar, it’s fine, but it’s a lot in a form that your body assimilates really rapidly.”
Ultimately, is it better just to eat the fruit or vegetable instead of turning it into a liquid you can drink. If you’re finding this difficult, set a small goal of adding an additional serving once a day and make it easy by chopping all your veggies in advance at the beginning of the week or stocking up on frozen options.
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What a Juice Cleanse Does to Your Metabolism
In addition to being inferior to whole fruits and vegetables, a juice cleanse could actually harm your metabolism. Specifically, when you are replacing meals with juice, it creates calorie deprivation that isn’t healthy.
“If you’re not getting enough calories, your body doesn’t know what you’re thinking, ‘I want to try to lose weight because I want to look good or even if I want to be healthy,’” explains Ellen. “Your body just knows that there’s a famine, so it slows down your metabolism.”
As a result, you’re likely to feel poorly and experience brain fog, she adds. You may also find you are obsessing about food because you are deprived. How distracting!
What a Juice Cleanse Does to Your Mental Health
There are negative effects on your mental health that could result from a restrictive lifestyle like juicing. Taking fruit or vegetables and pulverizing them into a drink is a very utilitarian way of consuming sustenance and it robs you of much of the experience of eating. Eating is an experience and it is more than just calories in. As Hays points out, it is normal to find that food meets social, emotional, and mental needs in addition to the basic need for calorie intake to provide you with energy.
“If you’re not able to sit down and have a variety of textures and flavors and aromas, you’re really going to miss out on that,” she says. “That’s kind of why people sometimes will finish up a juice cleanse or a fast and then, they really missed that, and that’s why they may go ahead and raid the pantry or raid the fridge.”
The post-juice-cleanse binge is the least of your worries. Ellen is both a psychologist and a dietitian and in her work, she regularly encounters individuals who developed eating disorders after engaging in repeated restriction or trying to find the one thing that would help them meet their weight loss goals.
“It can really screw people up,” she explains. “It’s going to contribute to some kind of disordered eating or even an eating disorder where people are restricting their calories severely.
So, should you or shouldn’t you juice? When it comes down to it, there is nothing wrong with having juice if it meets a craving. Go for it! However, if you’re using it as a meal replacement or in hopes of improving your health, you’re likely going to create more problems than you solve. Extreme calorie restriction is never a good idea and could increase your risk of problematic eating behaviors in the future.
Learn more about orthorexia, the eating disorder that starts with a healthy food obsession.