6 Lies (& 2 Truths) Told About the Benefits of Juice Cleanses

fresh juice for weight loss

Oprah Winfrey has done it. So has Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, Russell Simmons and countless other celebrities. They look great and say they feel great, so even though we may never set foot on the red carpet, why shouldn’t we all jump on the juicing wagon, too?

While it’s true that consuming more fruits and vegetables can be good for your health (and your waistline), you might want to pause your blender. But before we get into the myths (and yes, a couple of truths) about the benefits of juice cleanses, juice detoxing and/or juicing, let’s take a quick look at what this health trend is all about.

What Is Juicing?

fresh juice juice cleanse

When you partake in a juice cleanse or fast, you limit your diet to only fresh vegetable and fruit juices and water for a few days to up to several weeks. Juices should be freshly made and unpasteurized, so you can forget about chugging SunnyD. People who juice typically buy their juices from a manufacturer of juice cleanse products or purchase a juicer and prepare their own recipes at home. Juice-cleansing diets allow around 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day and may include a nut-milk component to provide a touch of fat and protein.

From getting the fruits and vegetables you need into your diet to shedding extra pounds to making you have more energy to lowering your risk of cancer, juice cleansing has made its fair share of healthful claims. Here are some of the leading claims on the benefits of juice cleanses and our thoughts on whether they ring true or false:

Myth vs. Truth: The Benefits of Juice Cleanses

1. It will help with weight loss

weight loss scaleMyth

Sure, on the surface, it might seem like juicing is a great way to help you lose weight fast, but it can backfire. Yes, cutting your daily caloric intake in half (healthy adults should consume about 2,000 calories per day) will help you shed pounds in the short term, but the weight loss is mostly due to a loss of water. Plus, this loss of water comes at the expense of muscle loss. When trying to lose weight, you should pay closer attention to the ratio of body fat compared to lean muscle mass and less attention to the number you’re seeing on your bathroom scale.

A diet that contains only fruit and vegetable juice also doesn’t contain nearly enough protein and fiber, both of which help you maintain muscle mass and stay full longer. When you’re juicing, you may become so “hangry” (think: hunger + anger = starving mad) that you’ll eventually cave to the temptation of eating a doughnut or a cheeseburger for relief. In addition, if you cleanse repeatedly for longer and longer time periods, you could permanently mess with your metabolism (which, by the way, can make you gain weight).

Bottom line: Juicing as a lasting weight-loss strategy is simply too restrictive and extreme. You will likely yo-yo and gain the weight right back when your cleansing regimen is complete.

2. It is a fantastic way to naturally detox your body

applce cucumber juice cleanse

Photo credit: bertholf via Foter.com / CC BY

Myth

Ridding or cleansing the body of toxins from junk food and alcohol sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, as the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The fact of the matter is, the body has its own built-in detoxification system. Our livers, kidneys and intestines do an excellent job of filtering out the unwanted things we ingest. There is no need to punish yourself by drinking only juice to eliminate the bad stuff you may have recently consumed. If you want to truly detox your body, eat healthier and drink plenty of water.

3. You’ll get more fruits and veggies in your diet

apple carrot juice cleanse

Photo credit: bertholf via Foter.com / CC BY

Truth (to a certain extent)

The average American needs 2,000 calories a day to maintain health and weight, so the average person’s goal should be nine servings (4.5 cups) of fruits and veggies per day. Remember, french fries don’t count. Actually, potatoes don’t count at all.

Don’t eat that much produce? You’re not alone. If you’re not a fan of fruits and vegetables, juicing can be a decent way to get more of them into your diet, as long as you are healthy. However, keep in mind that while juicing does supply some nutrients, registered dietitians note that there’s no reliable scientific evidence that liquifying your produce is healthier than eating it whole. Fiber and some of the antioxidants found in the skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables are frequently eliminated during the juicing process. You should still aim to eat most of your fruits and veggies whole. Select both in a variety of colors, so you get a nice blend of vitamins and minerals.

4. It makes you feel like a million bucks!

case with money

Myth

Initially, going on a juice cleanse may make you feel lighter and less bloated, and that may make it seem like you have more energy, but that’s basically because you’re shedding water weight. Marketers that sell cleansing drinks claim their products can not only help you fit into those coveted skinny jeans, but also boost your mental sharpness, improve your skin’s brilliance, regulate your digestion and more.

The truth is, here’s what really happens when you juice cleanse: Your body goes into starvation mode and begins rapidly breaking down something called ketones (fuel from previously stored fat). Ketone is like gasoline for your body, which is why people juicing will report feeling irritable and scatter-brained without the fuel they need to keep calm and carry on. Your brain also needs these precious amino-acid building blocks to help build muscle, as well as maintain mood. Those who are depressed or are prone to depression should particularly avoid juice cleansing, as they should make sure a steady flow of protein remains in their diet. People cleansing may also experience side effects such as fatigue, headaches, stomach pain, and of course, hunger pangs.

Last but not least, be prepared for changes in bowel function and frequent trips to the bathroom while juice cleansing.

5. You can lower your risk of disease

juice cleanse red juice

Myth

While it’s true that eating a plant-based diet may help lower your risk of heart disease or cancer, there hasn’t been much research done that’s focused on juicing. Any immune system benefits derived from juicing probably come from increasing your vitamin intake by eating more fruits and vegetables, regardless if they are in liquid form. In actuality, the best thing you can do with your diet is to make sure you aren’t depleting yourself of essential nutrients, and eat well-balanced, well-proportioned meals.

Specific to cancer, the American Cancer Society notes that “current scientific evidence does not support fasting (including juice fasting) to treat it.” Those undergoing chemotherapy should never attempt a juice fast because of the risk posed by high levels of antioxidants and low levels of protein.

6. There’s no harm or danger

strawberry juice cleanse

Myth

Juicing can be bad news for your nutrition. By restricting your diet to juices, you’re bombarding your system with fructose (a type of sugar in fruits that makes them taste sweet), while virtually shutting out your protein intake. What’s healthy about a diet high in sugar and low in protein?

Nothing.

Juicing can also be particularly dangerous for certain people. This includes people with diabetes, who take medication to regulate their insulin. Drinking too much juice could cause problems with blood sugar levels. Those who take certain medications, like blood thinners (e.g., warfarin or Coumadin), should stay away from green juices or other concoctions that could be high in vitamin K. This could lessen the effectiveness of the blood thinner. Vegetables high in vitamin K include kale, spinach, parsley and celery.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as people with compromised immune systems, or advanced heart, liver or kidney disease, should forgo juice cleanses, too.

7. All the stars are doing it, so dietitians must endorse it

three juice cleanse glasses

Photo credit: hepp via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Myth

Yes, many in Hollywood have popularized the concept of juice cleansing. Some have done it to drop a few quick pounds and get “red-carpet ready,” while others have advocated the regimen to feel healthier after overindulging. Although it’s understandable to succumb to this kind of hype (all the beautiful people are doing it!), an experienced and certified dietitian will not endorse juicing as a healthful strategy. As with other fad diets, juice cleansing or detoxing promises a quick and easy fix to something that, quite frankly, isn’t simple or fast.

If you want to cleanse, cleanse your diet of junk food and alcohol, and replace these with healthier choices.

8. It can’t hurt every once in a while

blood orange juice cleanse

Truth (again, as long as you’re in good health)

Wait. There may be some benefits to juice cleansing after all. First, if you follow it all the way through, you might feel some sort of personal accomplishment. You could also feel like you’ve overcome the hold bad food cravings have had over you. Some have reported that juice cleanses have allowed them to finally break unhealthy eating habits, and yes, it’s possible you may even get in the recommended amount of fruits and veggies (if not more) your body needs every day. Juices can be an effective way, for example, to get in your greens without having to gnaw on loads of fresh kale.

Before you proceed, a few more words to the wise though:

If you’re going to go for a juice cleanse anyway, be sure to make it short. It just isn’t healthy to restrict your body for weeks from the nutritious whole foods it needs.

Don’t juice as an exclusive means to lose weight. Moderation is the key to weight loss, as well as making important lifestyle changes. Replacing one meal with a juice in order to aid weight loss could be of benefit to those without health concerns, as long as it’s supported with a balanced diet. That means minimally processed foods, lean protein and plenty of whole fruits and vegetables (which are the real cleansers of your digestive tract). And don’t skip out on exercise. Try to squeeze in at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.

It could wind up really costing you. Google “cleanse” or “detox” and you’ll find pills, powders, juices, machines, patches, elixirs, creams and more—all guaranteed to make you healthier in three days or less, and all with some pretty hefty price tags.