In recent years, juicing and “juice cleansing” have become extremely popular in the world of nutrition and dieting. The juicing trend is characterized by drinking blended fruits and vegetables, sometimes along with obscure extracts and supplements, as an alternative way to obtain nutritional needs. Juice cleansing is a specific dietary strategy that some believe to help “cleanse” the body of toxins. People who undergo juice cleanses often drink their juice exclusively for days without food, sometimes with the hope of losing weight. If you grew up in the 90’s or earlier, then you experienced the paradigm shift from our society’s disregard of nutrition to near obsession with it. With this intensifying cultural focus on ways to improve our health, we have developed a plethora of strategies, diets, and tricks that attempt to maximize our health while often leaving us more confused than ever about “what really works”. Here, we elaborate on two different trends: that of juicing, or choosing to drink your fruits and veggies, and that of juice cleansing, which invokes a radical form of dieting by using a juice as a sole source of calories for an extended period of time.
How nutritious are we really being when we drink fruit?
There are a couple things to consider when you drink juice. Are you drinking completely natural juice? Meaning are oranges the only ingredient in orange juice and is there nothing from concentrate? The fewer the artificial ingredients in the juice you choose, the better. Another important aspect of nutrition is making sure your body can absorb all the nutrients you ingest. Slower absorption of sugar, vitamins, and minerals into the body is better. This concept is often confused with metabolism. Many people strive for a faster metabolism, which involves a quicker rate of calorie burning. On the other hand, absorption is better for you the slower it occurs because sugar and other nutrients will steadily enter your bloodstream without a dramatic spike in blood sugar. Spiking one’s blood sugar can be detrimental because any excess sugar not used by cells is stored as triglycerides (fat). A sudden surge in blood sugar is followed by a crash (you have probably felt this lethargic sensation about 1 hour after eating a donut or pastry for breakfast). For athletes, training sessions that last several hours require you to opt for snacks that yield a steady amount of energy for an extended period of time. While high in sugar, fruit is still better whole than juiced. For example, I pair a banana with some peanut butter or nuts instead of a glass of juice prior to working out because it keeps me feeling energized for longer.
Most important to recognize is that you lose the fiber that fruit and vegetables have in abundance when you juice them. Fiber maintains microflora in our gut and aids digestion. Fiber also makes you feel full, so even if you obtain the vitamins and minerals in juice, you may not feel satisfied after drinking it. If you enjoy juice as part of your diet, remember that it cannot replace eating whole fruits and vegetables. Also consider how much money you would like to put into a juicing habit—several juice companies mark up their liquid produce so much that you can end up paying $6-$10 per 12oz bottle!
Juice Cleansing: a big no-no for athletes, among others.
“The whole cleansing concept is silly. The body doesn’t need any help getting rid of compounds it doesn’t want. That’s what your liver and kidneys are for.”
-Dr. Elizabeth Applegate, UC Davis Department of Nutrition Senior Lecturer Division
The most extreme end of the juicing fad is the juice cleanse. Juice cleanses involve consuming about 1000 calories of liquid per day, and the body responds in a similar manner as it does during a religious fast. Carbohydrate reserves are depleted within a day, and they are not effective at shedding pounds. Dr. Applegate states, “We have cave-people bodies that are built for survival…on a cleanse diet, you shed water weight as your body breaks down its glycemic stores, but it comes back once you start eating adequately again.” If the cleanse continues, as many do, for several days to weeks, you burn through glycemic stores, then available fat, and subsequently protein in the muscle. In the early days of a fast or cleanse, the body burns some protein as it transitions from glucose to fatty acids as a fuel source. The shift in fuel is ultimately to minimize protein loss, but some protein is degraded in the process. This is particularly harmful for athletes, because you can single-handedly destroy the muscular tone you have worked hard to build in practice.
Athletes should remain skeptical toward juice cleanses. Cleansing applies discipline, restraint, and control (qualities that many elite athletes have perfected) to eating. The problem with cleansing lies not only in its physiological repercussions, but also in its psychological effects. According to Linda Antinoro, a nutrition specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, “There are certainly commonalities if we consider who is likely to develop an eating disorder and who is likely to undergo a cleanse…The diets seem compulsive and perhaps addictive. The restrictive tone is the same.” I do not mean to say that everyone who tries a cleanse will be at risk of developing anorexia nervosa. Spending up to $75 per day on a cleanse diet (the going rate for some common juice cleanse brands) can make people feel in control as they singularly sip down blended kale, lemon and pepper juice for days on end. Oh, and there is no way that juices do any better job of ridding yourself of “toxins” than the body already does. These liquids do not pull off impurities from what you ate the previous day—it all gets processed just the same through your organs. If anything, some juices can qualify as a sort of homemade laxative, so think twice about what’s really going on when you feel “purified” after a cleanse.
Juice when you want, resist the fads.
Treat juice cleanses the same you would diet pills and you’ll be in the clear. There is no research-based support for cleanses, and experts agree that cleansing is not only ineffective in what it purports to be, but can also lead to psychologically harmful behavior. Juicing on the other hand, in which you drink regular blends of fruit or veggies is acceptable. Just remember that whole produce is generally healthier because its fiber slows down digestion and subsequently slows down the rate of absorption into the body. Whatever you experiment with, remember that you can make your own juice and do not need to spend ten bucks each time you want a drink. There are many holistic-seeming options out there for health cure-alls. In an age of organic “this” and natural “that”, we are beginning to treat nutrition in an increasingly ritualized manner. Stay objective about new trends that pop up, and remember than an apple or banana a day is just as good for you as it has always been.References:
- Katy Waldman. San Jose Mercury News: “Juice Cleanses May Come at a Big Price”. Sunday, December 29, 2013.
- Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L.
New York: W H Freeman; 2002. Biochemistry. 5th Edition. Section 30.3Food Intake and Starvation Induce Metabolic Changes