Weight loss is often a goal, but the reasons people are drawn to juice cleanses go beyond that. Companies claim they’ll help you “refresh and recharge,” “detoxify,” “feel your best,” “reset eating habits,” and more.
But while some people swear by them, many experts say no evidence exists that they deliver on their promises.
Nicole Appleby, an actress based in Los Angeles, is a fan. She does a juice cleanse about three times a year and finds that, while they can be challenging, the benefits are worthwhile. “It’s a sort of misery that turns into euphoria,” she says. Appleby says she notices a decrease in the joint pain she experiences because of an autoimmune inflammatory condition.
Lizzie Braicks-Rinker, a trainer in Seattle, also wanted to see what juicing was all about. She intended to go the full seven days but — feeling cranky, tired and weak, and struggling to make it through her normal yoga practice — tapped out on day five. Ultimately, the thought of attending a friend’s baby shower “feeling completely miserable” prompted her to call it quits earlier than planned.
The two women’s experiences mirror what you see on social media, with some people who’ve tried a juice cleanse extolling the benefits; some complaining about exhaustion, digestive system distress and more; and others warning that some juice cleanses can be harmful. What are the facts? We took a look at the evidence for juice fasting claims.
Juicing for weight loss
Not all juice cleanse companies make explicit claims about weight loss, but there’s no doubt that it’s a major reason people attempt one.
Can a juice cleanse make you lose weight? Yes, but not because there’s anything special about juice. In reality, a juice cleanse is simply a restrictive, low-calorie diet, says Tinsay A. Woreta, a liver specialist and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “You’re relying on a diet consisting solely of fruits and vegetables,” she says, so it makes sense that you would lose weight in the short term.
But no research exists to support the idea that a juice fast will lead to lasting weight loss. If you drop a few pounds, it’s probably because you’re eating fewer calories than you normally do, or you have lost water weight, not fat. Once you resume eating, even if your diet is healthier than before the cleanse, the weight will probably return.
A newer trend in cleanses is to incorporate some solid food into the routine — for example, you drink juice during the day and then have a small, plant-based meal in the evenings. While this can add some fiber and more calories to your day, and help battle the hunger people experience, the end result will probably be the same.
For some, a “quick fix” weight loss mentality can be harmful and can even trigger disordered eating. “The evidence [shows] that most diets lead to weight cycling — the quick loss and then regaining of weight — which can have a harmful toll on our physical and mental health,” says Alicia Romano, a clinical dietitian at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. This may be especially true for people who have a history of eating disorders or poor body image.
The detox promise
It’s true that our bodies come into contact with potentially harmful substances every day — whether in our environment (like air pollution) or from drinking alcohol, says Ryan D. Andrews, an adjunct nutrition instructor at Purchase College in New York. A diet high in ultraprocessed foods — which are often loaded with sodium, added sugars and saturated fat — can also affect your health.
The body naturally cleanses itself all the time, however. Healthy people “can rely on the liver, kidneys, digestive tract, and even skin and lungs to naturally detoxify the body,” Romano says. Those organs convert toxins into compounds that are eliminated by our bodies in sweat, urine and feces.
Nutrients such as vitamin C and the flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables help support these processes. But there’s no evidence that consuming them in liquid form is any better than getting them through eating plant foods.
What’s more, Woreta says, opt for juices over food and “you’re depriving yourself of other nutrients your body needs.” Fiber is a good example. It’s limited or missing completely from juice cleanses. It may also be one of your body’s most important ways to get rid of harmful compounds.
The feel-good factor
“Some people feel that when they drink green juice their life is better,” Andrews says. “That’s an important thing to recognize.” Many say they have more energy and less bloating. Some people also welcome the rigidity of the plans. “There’s no hassle deciding what to eat, or just eating because you’re bored,” Appleby says.
For those whose diets aren’t ideal — e.g., not enough fruits and vegetables or containing a lot of processed foods — a juice cleanse may be something your body welcomes. “If you aren’t consuming any veggies or fruits and suddenly add in all of these juices, you’re getting vitamins you weren’t getting before,” Andrews says.
In addition, the sugars in fruit juice may give you an energy boost because compared with eating the fruit itself, the sugars in juice are digested and released into your bloodstream faster, causing blood glucose levels to spike. But over time, that can have a downside. A spike in glucose levels may trigger the body to pump out large amounts of insulin, which can prompt fat storage and increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
And if you aren’t drinking enough water, a fluid-rich juice cleanse may help alleviate symptoms like tiredness, headaches and joint pain. Of course, drinking water as part of a balanced diet is a simple and free way to achieve good hydration, too.
There’s also an explanation for why juice cleanses can make you feel less bloated. “There aren’t solids coming in, so you’re not feeling as distended,” Andrews says. What’s more, by eliminating all or most solid foods you’ve also removed ingredients that cause gas — a normal byproduct of eating — or that you may be particularly sensitive to. That clean slate may help you feel better in the short term.
The risks and realities
Juice cleanses aren’t for everyone. Those with chronic health conditions should proceed with caution and discuss it with their health team before doing a cleanse. These include people with diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2), kidney or liver disease, eating disorders (active or history of), inflammatory bowel conditions, or irritable bowel syndrome, as well as those who are immunocompromised, pregnant or breastfeeding, Romano says.
If you don’t have any of these conditions, and you can swallow the price tag — a three-day program can cost as much as $150 — a juice cleanse probably will not cause harm. Keep the cleanse short, and consider doing one that is a combo of juice and solid food. If you try a cleanse and feel unwell at any point, stop and eat real food — and seek health care if you do not improve right away.
Even if a juice cleanse helps you hit the reset button or lose a few pounds, it is not meant to be a long-term solution.
And remember, there is a low-risk, low-cost, science-backed way to support your body that can help you feel your best: Eating a colorful, balanced and varied diet. “Think fiber-rich foods, lean protein, healthy fats, lots of water, limited alcohol, and less concentrated sweets and ultraprocessed foods,” Romano says.
Copyright 2022, Consumer Reports Inc.
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