Meat lovers lucked out when the Atkins Diet became the hottest way to lose weight. Carb addicts got their 15 minutes when the Kellogg company introduced the Special K Challenge as a means of dropping up to six pounds in two weeks. Now, one of the most enduring fad diets on the market is not even called a diet: it’s called a cleanse.
In its purest form, a juice cleanse requires the dieter to consume nothing but fruit and vegetable juice for a minimum of three days and a maximum of several weeks. Forget adding whey protein powder or psyllium husk fiber to the juice drinks; if the ingredients cannot be plucked fresh from nature and pushed through the juicer nozzle, it’s off limits.
The popularity of juice cleansing took off several years ago, and businesses such as Juice Press, Organic Avenue and Cooler Cleanse boomed, aided by claims that the diet does everything from restoring your waistline to killing unhealthy cravings. But does the product live up to the hype? A sampling of those in the know say no.
Claim #1: It cleanses the body of unwanted toxins.
The Weigh-In: Researchers from the Mayo Clinic
Of all of the health claims surrounding juice cleanses, the concept of detoxification is one of the most compelling. It seems like common sense, right? Not necessarily. In February 2011 Mayo Clinic researchers, after gathering information from various expert sources, found no convincing evidence that supports this claim. In fact, no scientific study available suggests that the human body requires an additional means of detoxification from harmful substances accumulating in the body. The liver, kidneys and intestines do an efficient job of filtering and expelling waste naturally.
Reality Check: Leave the detoxing to Mother Nature.
Claim #2: It melts fat, especially around the midsection.
The Weigh-In: A Personal Trainer
Sorry folks, but liquefied fruits and vegetables do not have the power to target certain areas of the body when it comes to weight loss. “You definitely cannot just target the midsection by drinking a juice cleanse,” says Arthur Walker, a certified personal trainer in New York City. “It functions mainly in the intestines and in your stomach lining. In terms of burning fat, that’s not going to happen. Anybody that I’ve seen complete one of these cleanses lost some water weight, but it didn’t target their midsection.”
Reality check: Instead of juice, stock up on some new workout gear.
The Weigh-In: A Registered Dietician
In fact, nutrition provided by a juice cleanse is far from balanced, says Amy Shapiro, R.D., the founder of Real Nutrition, a Manhattan-based nutritional counseling practice. “There are a lot of vitamins, minerals and probably antioxidants in these juices, but there’s no protein, fiber, or heart-healthy fats, nothing that’s going to give your body something to really work with. It’s also giving you a lot of sugar,” said Shapiro. “If you drink 12 ounces of carrot juice, you’re probably eating about 15 large carrots, and no one is going to sit down and eat 15 large carrots. If you eat just three large carrots, it fills you up because it’s got fiber in it, your body has to work on digesting it, and you eat a lot less sugar and calories.”
Reality check: Listen to your mother—chew your food!
Claim #4: It kills cravings for unhealthy foods and habits.
The Weigh-In: A Former Cleanser
Health-conscious student Hayley Vatcher, 22, attempted a 48-hour juice cleanse in preparation for a formal event and found that the diet pushed per beyond craving control—but not in a good way. “In my experience, I didn’t have any cravings because my stomach felt so weird, and I was nauseous the whole second day. I just didn’t want to eat anything. Maybe that was the point of the cleanse, but I didn’t feel like I was being healthy during it—I felt like I was cheating the system.”
Reality Check: Reach for an apple rather than potato chips, and take it from there.
The Weigh-In: A Nutritionist and Health Writer
Try again. Shorter seems to be safer in regards to juice cleansing. “From a health enhancement perspective, I think the longer you do a juice cleanse, the more problematic it becomes as you make the nutritional hole deeper,” said nutritionist and contributing health writer for “U.S. News” Tamara Duker Freuman. “You’re messing around with your metabolism and insulin levels, things you don’t really want to mess around with. Juice spikes blood sugar—most of the juices people use are more fruit than vegetable. The constant spiking and crashing, it’s not a great cycle to be going into for a week’s time.”
Reality Check: Get out while you still can.
Claim #6: It does not affect your normal work or exercise routine.
The Weigh-In: A Marathon Runner
Marathoner Mike Spinner, who’s tried it, begs to differ. “I wasn’t training for anything because I understood what I was getting myself into, but just trying to exercise, I didn’t have my typical energy level. I was hydrated but definitely not nourished. I wasn’t ingesting any lean protein, so my muscle-building and recovery ability was not as efficient as it was when I wasn’t cleansing. I only did two of the three days because I wanted to get back to my normal routine.”
Reality Check: Start counting how many sick days you have left.
The Weigh-In: A Fitness Professional
If spending up to $60 per day on juice or investing in a quality juicer for several hundreds more seems reasonable to you, fine. However, fitness professional Maureen Key thinks there are smarter ways to be healthy. “I really recommend skipping the juice cleanse and investing in groceries. While many argue that the cost of healthy foods is high, I personally shop for the higher quality foods each week and spend an average of $50,” said Key. “Organic foods are more expensive, but you do not need to buy everything organic in order to reap the benefits.”
Reality check: Shove that credit card back in your pocket and go to the supermarket.
Originally written for my graduate writing/reporting workshop