People have a LOT of opinions about juice cleanses.
Some people get righteously indignant about how juice cleanses are actually dangerous woo-woo nonsense. Other people use words like “detox” and “toxins” and “purify” and “cleanse” and swear by the stuff. And other people say things like “that’s not how your body works” or “that’s what your fucking liver is for.”
And all of these people will insist that they are right.
But…what’s the truth? What exactly does a juice cleanse do to your body? BuzzFeed Life reached out to some experts for some answers. And here’s what they had to say.
First things first: Is juicing going to detoxify your impurities, or nah?
1. There’s not any real evidence that juicing is some magical cure-all.
“I don’t know why someone would do a juice cleanse,” Dr. John Buse, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the division of endocrinology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told BuzzFeed Life. “There’s very little evidence that it does anything good for you.”
2. And it definitely won’t “rid your body of toxins.”
That really is what your liver (and your kidneys and intestines) is for. “I don’t like the marketing around juice cleanses,” Eric Ravussin, Ph.D., associate executive director for clinical science at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, told BuzzFeed Life. “That it’s going to detox and mobilize all these toxins and all that — this is pure marketing.”
3. But…there’s also not much evidence that it’s the worst thing in the world, either.
As long as you keep it short and don’t have underlying health problems (such as diabetes), anyway. “[If you’re healthy to begin with,] there’s very little evidence that it does anything bad for you, either,” Buse said. “So if someone feels better when they do a juice cleanse [for a few days,] … as a physician, it’s not something I’d fight with them about. I’m just not sure there’s a great deal of benefits.”
One major caveat here: If you have a history of disordered eating, or worry that your attitudes toward eating are harmful to your physical or mental health, you should avoid fad diets like this one. You should also talk to your doctor if you’re contemplating making any extreme changes to your eating habits.
But what about your insides? Is it like OxiClean for your organs, or more like pre-diabetes in a cup?
4. If you drink only fruit juice, you’ll be drinking a LOT of sugar.
And here’s what that might do to your body:
1. In the immediate short-term, your pancreas creates a bit more insulin than it normally does, to help your body manage all that extra sugar.
2. Your blood sugar levels go up a bit higher than they normally do. That’s in part because of the extra sugar, and also because you’re not eating other macronutrients such as fiber and protein that help slow your digestion down and moderate your blood-sugar levels.
3. If you’re the type of person who responds poorly to fluctuations in blood sugar, you’ll potentially experience the jittery highs and miserable lows of sugar highs and crashes…
4. …but you might also not experience any adverse effects, Buse said. Everybody is different, and most people don’t have any major noticeable reactions to eating (or drinking) a lot of sugar.
5. Although…juicing for a few days is probably OK for your blood sugar in the long term.
A few days of drinking fruit juice might make you feel like a garbage human, but it likely won’t have any long-term consequences for your blood-sugar levels, Buse said. (Again, that’s assuming you’re healthy to begin with.)
6. If you drink only veggie juice, you’re going to be missing out on necessary carbs.
Kale is great for you, but eating exclusively kale (or kale smoothies) can have some downsides. See, your body needs some carbohydrates to function normally. And it’s really hard to get all the carbs you need from veggies alone. And this can have some weird side effects (more on that in a bit).
7. No matter what you’re drinking, you’re going to miss out on a lot of other nutrients and vitamins.
Fiber, for instance, which helps you feel full and slows the digestive process and moderates your blood-sugar levels. And many essential amino acids (proteins), which you can only get through food sources. And fat-soluble vitamins, which need to be digested along with fat in order to be effectively metabolized. Plus other important things that keep your body ticking along normally.
(For the record, yes, you can get some amino acids from vegetables, but, Buse said, it’s hard to get as many as your body needs during a juice cleanse, even one that includes vegetable juice.)
OK, sure. “Nutrients.” But why does juicing make me feel things?
9. And if you’re not eating enough carbs, you might feel a bit…woozy.
When you’re fasting or aren’t eating enough carbohydrates (typically less than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day, and more for people who work out a lot), your body can go into a state called ketosis. That’s essentially when your body creates another form of energy (molecules called ketone bodies) to use as fuel. Your brain normally uses glucose for energy; but in the absence of enough glucose (from fasting, and not eating enough carbs), your brain can use ketones as fuel, too. “Some people when they fast have a sense of feeling drunk or woozy — part of that is from the ketones,” Buse said.
This is why it’s important to drink both fruit and veggies, not just veggies. It’s really hard to get enough carbs from vegetables alone.
10. But the biggest reason you might feel like garbage on a juice cleanse is because you’re really hungry. Like, starving, actually.
Many juice cleanses limit you to around 1,000 calories a day (or less). When people limit their calories, “they tend to start feeling a little bit weaker,” Buse says. Low calorie-intake can also make you feel irritable, Leslie Schilling, RDN, LDN, Memphis-based dietitian and owner of Schilling Nutrition Therapy, LLC, and yoursuppersolution.com, told BuzzFeed Life in an email.
Hanger is real. And you can buy the Hangry pillow above from the My Bearded Pigeon shop on Etsy.
11. Not to mention…some other side effects.
Case in point.
OK, but what if I want to drink only juice for a few days as a way to lose weight? New Year New You! What’s the verdict?
12. Yes, you may start losing weight — but also muscle mass.
Many juice cleanses limit your calories to less than 1,000 a day, putting you in a deficit. When this happens, your body begins using up your stored energy: First, it pulls from the short-term energy called glycogen (stored in your muscles and liver); then, after a day or so when all your glycogen is depleted, it turns to the longer-term energy sources — triglycerides from your fat cells and proteins in your muscles. Hence, some loss of fat, and some loss of muscle mass.
That said, a good deal of the weight you lose during a juice cleanse might just be water weight, Schilling said. You are drinking fluids (which means peeing a lot) all day every day, after all.
13. And chances are VERY high that you’ll end up gaining back any weight you do lose.
“It’s highly unlikely that one will maintain the weight loss from a “juice cleanse” unless quickly coupled with realistic and lasting lifestyle changes (like swapping out heavily processed foods for more fruits, veggies, high-quality protein and fat sources),” Schilling said.
“Lasting health behavior changes come from increased awareness, realistic changes, and consistent planning. And very few people keep off weight they’ve lost through a quick fix diet over the long term. Research suggests that chronic dieters actually are at greater risk for being overweight and having disordered eating patterns.”
14. The “healthiest” juice cleanses are the ones that combine juices from a variety of sources: fruits, veggies, nuts, and so on.
Oh, and actual whole foods, so you can get some fiber and amino acids and healthy fats in your diet. You know, standard healthy eating.
In all seriousness, just because going on a pure juice cleanse isn’t the healthiest doesn’t mean you should swear off juices or juicing altogether. We’re talking about consuming more fruits and veggies, after all. So supplementing your regular balanced meals and snacks with the occasional vegetable and fruit juice can be a healthy choice. This could potentially be a “sustainable lifestyle change or strategy,” Schilling said.
15. But if you’re otherwise healthy and you still really, really, really want to go on a juice cleanse…fine. Knock yourself out.
Just limit it to no more than a few days, Ravussin said, so that your short-term nutrient- and calorie-deficits don’t turn into actual health problems. And whatever weight you lose during that time…don’t expect to keep it off for long.
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