Juicing 101: Considering a detox diet? Here’s what you need to know
You can find juice bars at health spas and fitness centers in some of the healthiest cities in America. Just scan Pinterest for 18 seconds and you will see that this craze, which first surged in popularity in the ’90s, has seriously taken off again.
And we’re not talking about drinking lots of apple juice from concentrate from the grocery store. This is the trend of squeezing fresh fruit and even veggies, often using a special machine, to consume more produce.
Interested in trying it out? You can find plenty of books and videos about the health benefits of juicing (advocates say drinking your produce is a quick and easy way to get it down, especially if you don’t really enjoy fruits and veggies). And we all (should) know the food pyramid is built upon three to five servings of veggies and two to four servings of fruit every day.
When pulverized, the produce you drink retains its vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as long as you consume it within an hour or so. The Centers for Disease Control says a healthy diet rich in fruits and veggies can reduce the risk of cancer and other health problems. The health benefits of produce goes on.
But juicing for health is not that simple.
You probably don’t need to detox
When you hear people talking about juicing “detoxes,” they often are referring to some sort of system re-set, typically by pureeing and drinking multiple pounds of produce per day for three to 10 days in lieu of most solid foods. The hope: They will clean out their digestive system, get more energy and lose weight, says Megan Thomas, a Colorado-based certified personal trainer, fitness instructor and a dietitian.
But before you commit to any kind of detox or cleanse, first talk to your doctor. Especially if you have a medical condition, such as diabetes. And then make sure you understand the concept of detoxing.
The word “detox” gets thrown around a lot and is often misunderstood, Thomas says.
“Our bodies are amazingly adept at eliminating toxins from our various organ systems,” she says. “Unless a person has a specific disease that prevents one of these systems from working properly—for example, end-stage kidney failure—the body doesn’t need help with true detoxification. And if a person does have a disease that prevents proper detoxification, a juice cleanse isn’t going to help.”
Juicing does not “cleanse” your system, Thomas says. Here’s what really happens: When a large amount of sugary produce is consumed without fiber, protein or fat to slow it down, it can cause an influx of water into the large intestine, which will likely send you to the bathroom. But that’s not your system flushing out the toxins, Thomas says. To a large degree, it’s simply a waste of the food you just consumed.
“If food does not sit in the large intestine long enough, there are some key nutrients that are not going to get absorbed from the foods we eat or the juices we drink,” Thomas says. “Among these are vitamin A, vitamin K and essential fatty acids. So, by ‘cleansing’ the system with a juice cleanse, a person is actually missing out on a lot of great nutrition.”
In addition, juicing for too long can cause more serious nutritional deficiencies, Thomas says. Fruits and veggies contain little to no protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B6 or vitamin B12, she says.
Juice diets may not be healthy
Beware: The idea of a “juice detox for weight loss” might be a more socially acceptable term for “crash diet,” i.e. one you cannot maintain.
Yes, juicing and cutting back on solid food will limit your calories so you may lose weight, Thomas says. But that won’t last long, once you start eating normal food again—and at that point, your metabolic rate will be lower than before.
“Therefore, not only will you likely gain back the weight you lost, you might even gain back more while your body struggles to adjust,” Thomas says.
Plus, drinking tons of juice alone isn’t actually that healthy. First of all, juicer machines suck out the juice and leave behind the pulp, which is where the fiber is stored. Experts believe it’s much healthier to simply eat your fruits and veggies in their natural state. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who ate at least two servings a week of some whole fruits reduced their risk of coming down with type 2 diabetes, whereas people who drank one or more servings of fruit juice each day increased their risk.
How to juice right
If you still prefer to juice, either temporarily or every once in a while, make sure you add plenty of that pulp back into your juice, experts say.
Christi Sullivan, a personal trainer in Loveland, Colo., says it’s important to balance out the macro nutrients in your juice by consuming it alongside fat and protein. This goes counter to some juice-only diet plans out there.
“Otherwise, it’s just a big glass of sugar and it spikes the blood sugar,” she says.
At the very least, she recommends adding coconut oil to the juice and adding a quality protein powder to keep the sugar in check.
Coconut oil has seven calories per gram, whereas other fats have nine, she says.
“Plus, it increases metabolism,” Sullivan says, adding that she prefers Great Lakes Gelatin. If you buy a protein powder in the store, make sure it’s certified organic, she says. You may have to try different types and brands before you find one that works for you.
Pick your potion
Don’t do it for weight loss and don’t do it as a “cleanse,” but juicing can be a beneficial add-on to an already healthy diet, if you do it smartly, Thomas says.
When selecting the produce to juice, keep it veggie-heavy, advises Annie Brokaw, of Longmont, Colo., a fitness writer and independent consultant for AdvoCare. Train your tongue to like less-sweet juices, she says.
“The really sweet ones full of fruit and sweet root veggies, like carrots, are basically just full of sugar,” she says. “Even though it’s ‘good’ sugar, all of that will spike your insulin levels and convert to fat.”
Some research even indicates that sugary juice can contribute to a fatty liver, so make green leafy veggies the bulk of your blend, Brokaw advises, or add your juice to a more substantial smoothie.
Ultimately, if you want to consume more fruits and veggies, don’t complicate it; simply eat more fruits and veggies.
Tabitha Farrar, a Colorado-based eating disorder specialist, says she thinks humans were made to bite and munch, and these foods were intended to taste good to motivate us to do so.
“Juicing fruit is a bit like getting pregnant without having sex. It kinda removes all the fun,” Farrar says. “As with most things, fruit and veggies do not need to be played with or improved on, as they are perfect in the packages they come in.”