Juicing: Holy Grail Of Health Or Total BS?

While delicious and nutritious, juice cleanses are not necessary or balanced, and they can prolong some pretty unhealthy patterns of eating.
Publish date:
August 11, 2014
wellness, detoxing, health, healthy eating, green juice, juice cleanses, juicing

Cookies for breakfast diets, the baby food diet, the (horrifying) tongue patch method--I’ve heard it all. It’s part of my work as a certified health coach to weigh in on all manner of health crazes my clients ask me about. Juicing is definitely one that’s on the right side of sanity. Of course, I’m talking about green juice from fruits and vegetables, not guzzling apple juice or Tropicana, or whatever Snoop Dogg mixes with gin.

I love that there aren’t any freak show ingredients like the artificial gunk and added sugars in Pop Chips, energy bars, and other pseudo-healthy packaged foods. Also, green juices have a high concentration of vitamins and antioxidants and can help you nail your servings of fruits and vegetables in a convenient (albeit painfully expensive) way.

I fully support downing an organic 12- to 16-ounce juice a day, especially if you rarely touch vegetables. Or, if you’re like me and just want the pick-me-up feeling you get from the occasional green juice, then by all means, bottoms up!

But please, let’s all just calm down with the juice cleanses.

If the claims from juice companies and their fans are true, you can experience skin that glows like a Christmas tree, quick, effortless weight loss, and a body scrubbed free of toxins from air pollution and yesterday’s pepperoni pizza. By many accounts, juice cleansing makes your life shinier and better, and you’ll be a more enlightened, euphoric human being. Double rainbows EVERYWHERE!

We all want it to be that easy, but there are some holes in the juice cleanse logic, and there’s just not any solid science available yet to back up some of their claims (especially not the double rainbow thing because I made that up).

To say a juice cleanse will completely rid your body of toxins is totally misleading.

Your liver and kidneys are detoxifying your body around the clock. Can they keep up with today’s insane level of chemicals in the air, the food we eat and the products we use? Probably not. There’s still a lot we don’t know about this. But there’s no evidence to show that juice cleanses make your body’s natural detox process more efficient.

So, they’re not necessary. Are they healthy?

Fresh juices have serious game in the vitamin and mineral departments, but three days of juice can hardly be considered balanced nutrition. Juicing removes the pulp from most fruits and veggies, so you’re left with a boatload of natural sugars and no fiber. Juices also tend to be super low in protein and healthy fats--two essential nutrients that also help to make you feel full. Hence, that deep, gnawing, all-consuming HANGRY feeling during a juice fast. It’s tough to feel satisfied on vitamins alone.

While juice cleanses weren’t created to help people lose weight, that’s the number one motivation behind most of the questions I get about them. You may get the quick-fix gratification of losing a few pounds, but much of what’s lost comes back quickly once you start eating again.

Some people say they use juice cleanses to jump-start a new pattern of healthier eating. And to them I say cheers! Everyone has to find their own groove with healthy eating (or drinking, in this case).

But I’ve seen many more people treat juice cleanses the way I did--as a three-day Band-Aid for streaks of unhealthy eating.

In several of my past post-gluttony moments, usually weighed down by a weekend of enchiladas, ice cream sundaes, and a little guilt, I plunked down my money for a juice cleanse (woops, sorry 401k fund). It temporarily gave me a sense of structure and control, and an excuse to have a free-for-all kind of weekend. Juice cleanses are great at feeding that kind of on-again-off-again mentality.

Not long after drinking the last juice, I was back to craving cheese fries and still had no clue how to deal with the situations that put me in that free-for-all mode in the first place. I didn’t have real, lasting success until I put in the time and effort to learn how to get more healthy foods into my life in a regular, sustainable way.

Bottom line: Having a daily green juice is a great, convenient way to get a potent dose of the goodness in fruits and vegetables (if you can stomach the price tag or make your own at home). But juice cleanses are not necessary or balanced, and they can prolong some pretty unhealthy patterns of eating.

Most of us are better off taking the old fashioned approach of eating more whole fruits and vegetables, eating less processed junk, drinking more water and buying less toxic versions of the products we use on a daily basis.

If you like to get your juice on, make sure it’s one made mostly of vegetables. Too much fruit and your juice can have as much sugar as a Coke. Tropical fruits like pineapple and mango are nature’s candy, so look for juices made with apples as the sweetener. Also, if it’s in your budget, buy organic juices only. The non-organic ones may use pesticide-treated produce, which will have some of those toxins you’re trying to avoid.

Chase your green juice with a snack that has some healthy fat and protein like Greek yogurt, nut butter on whole grain bread or, my personal favorite, half an avocado mashed with sea salt and lime juice. This will help slow down the effect of all the sugar from the juice.

Finally, don’t forget about green smoothies! Yeah, they’re thicker and sometimes a little swampy-looking, but they still contain the fiber from the fruits and veggies because they’re blended. You can add chia seeds, flax seeds, and nut butters to these for protein and healthy fat.

Have you ever tried a juice-only cleanse? What did you think?