By Gina M. Gilchrist, RDN, LD (Registered, Licensed Dietitian)
April showers bring warmer days, and for some, spring cleansing. The juice cleanse business is drawing in customers, promising weight loss, body detoxification, and the treatment and prevention of everything from the common cold to cancer.
What is a juice cleanse? According to proponents of cleansing, a poor diet is thought to impede the body’s natural ability to detoxify chemicals. During a juice fast, a
person limits their diet to only fresh vegetable and fruit juices and water for anywhere from a few days to several weeks. The basic claim is that the maximum benefits of these foods are obtained when they are juiced. Many involve some version of a liquid diet—giving up solid food for a few days and
then gradually reintroducing organic, whole foods along with vitamin mineral supplements. Other detox programs involve replacing one or two meals with a high protein, vitamin rich shake and include “boosters” in the form of herbal laxative and diuretics, probiotics, nutrients, and antioxidants. Most cleanses contain about 1000-1200 calories. Fat and protein are often in the nut-milk component of the cleanse or via powders. Proponents of the cleanses will even report that drinking the juice “gives the digestive system a break”.
So, what are the truths about juice cleanses?
- It’s dangerous for some people. Chemotherapy patients, teens, children, pregnant women, older adults, diabetics, kidney disease patients, and those with nutritional deficiencies or a history of an eating disorder should consult with their physician prior to any major dietary change.
- There is no research based, statistically significant study that shows following a detox diet will rid the body of chemicals. Medical experts believe the healthy human body is well equipped to deal with toxins regardless. Our skin, lungs, kidneys, liver, and GI tract are efficient at removing and neutralizing toxic substances within hours of consumption. They are working 24/7 as our body will always make metabolic waste….even after consuming a juice.
- A lot of people want to go on cleanse diets because they think it’ll give them a jump start on weight loss. It will help them with loss because typically the calories provided by a cleanse are critically low. So low, in fact, that it can mess with metabolism and actually assist in lowering it. When a person goes off a cleanse and doesn’t eat healthfully and keep portions at bay, weight gain can ensue. Much of the initial weight loss is water weight, and if calorie and protein intake is inadequate for a long period, people are losing muscle for energy while fat is conserved for our vital organs.
- These diets do not teach people about lifestyle change,just a quick fix. Persons who cleanse regularly may find their weight yo-yo-ing and have difficulty with weight maintenance. The irony is, after they cleanse, will a person eat healthfully? If so, then great! However, the majority of persons will go back to previous eating habits. Why? Because detoxes and cleanses prevent people from being able to act on their usual emotional, social, environmental, and habitual eating triggers, which can be the first step to breaking unhealthy patterns. All of these benefits can make committing to healthy goals, like cooking at home more often, eating breakfast daily, and eating 5+ fruits and veggies daily, a whole lot easier. By gradually taking out the processed foods and increasing fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts/seeds, legumes, and heart healthy oils a person will help their overall health and “cleanse” in the sense that they’ll have fewer processed foods in their system…and oftentimes fewer calories naturally!
- The best cleansing for your body is a diet that is well-balanced, plant-based, and meets your fiber and nutrient needs. When you “juice” something, you are basically pre-chewing the foods and removing much of the fiber. By eating whole foods, the chewing and digestion process is actually excellent for raising your metabolism. It is called the thermic effect of food and your body burns calories breaking down the foods. By drinking a juice that basically runs right through you, your body does not have to work too hard. Additionally, whole foods have that wonderful fiber component in them. Fibrous foods help to slough off dead cells in the GI tract to regenerate new, healthy cells. So why would you want to give your GI tract a break? Fiber also helps you feel full andbinds to cholesterol in foods, helping the cholesterol to not be absorbed in our bloodstream. This is why a high fiber, whole foods diet helps aid in preventing certain types of GI tract cancers, improves cholesterol levels, and is useful for weight management.
- Many people find it difficult to stick to a cleanse. Why? Low calorie diets trick your body. Your body wants and expects food. This deprivation can result in dizziness, nausea, constipation, fatigue, irritability and….cravings!
Bottom line is, a nutritious juice here and there can be beneficial, but when it’s taken to the extreme—limiting your diet to strictly juice for days or weeks, it can do more harm than good. If you do plan to juice or cleanse, here are a few tips to help you choose the healthiest plan:
- Check in with your doctor first if you have a health condition or take medications.
- Choose one with the least dietary restrictions. Look for a program that includes lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Spend your money on whole foods instead of pre-made juices!
- Avoid laxative and diuretic supplements as these can be harmful to your blood electrolyte levels. Consuming plenty of fiber and water will help your body naturally excrete wastes.
- Do not exceed the diet’s recommended duration. Choose a 3 day cleanse versus a 7 day or 30 day regimen. Avoid being a cleanse binger–going on and off cleanses. If you choose a short duration cleanse to kick start healthy eating habits and you stick to it, there will be no need for future cleansing.
- Schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian before, during, and after you cleanse for monitoring and coaching towards gradual, healthy, and long term diet and lifestyle changes. Remember, moderation is key!
Gina Gilchrist, Registered Dietitian
Fox Valley Physical Therapy & Wellness
2011 Dean Street, St. Charles, IL 60174
Call 630-549-0511 to schedule a nutrition consultation (Infants through Geriatric)
Posted on: April 15, 2014 | Nutrition