The truth about juice cleanses

Are they fab or fad?

Want to have your fruit and drink it too? Advocates of juice cleansers cite a range of health benefits for the mind and body, but are these diets all they’re cracked up to be? 

The trend for juice cleanses may have taken the wellness world by storm, but critics point to their potentially harmful side effects. In the past few years, juicing companies have sprung up across Australia, and while many of us have added a cold-pressed vegie juice to our morning routine, juice-only cleanses lasting several days have become increasingly popular too.

Those in favour point to detoxification, weight loss, improved digestion and clearer skin as some benefits of a cleanse, but as with any health-oriented diet, juice fasts have attracted their fair share of criticism – strain on the liver, high fructose and low fibre being the main concerns. So is going on a cleanse going to deliver you what you need?

The health benefits

“Juice floods your system with nutrients, while giving your digestive system a break,” says naturopath Kristen Shanks from Orchard Street. Shanks’s business uses organic produce and the cold-pressed method to extract its juice for its range of naturopath-designed cleanses, which includes smoothies, too. “As there is no insoluble fibre in cold-pressed juice, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to break down the cellulose to extract the nutrients, so they are efficiently absorbed into your system,” she says.

Health coach Saimaa Miller from The Last Resort believes that “brief fasts done a few times a year are a great way to cleanse the body and improve overall health and wellbeing.” She advocates the daily inclusion of vegetable juices to boost nutrient intake: “In this day and age, where part and parcel of living in a city is running around like a headless chicken, having liquids either as a meal-replacement or a snack [will] make sure your are not impairing digestion by guzzling your food on the run. Juicing is a fast and effective way to ensure your body still receives essential nutrients.” 

The warnings

Naturopath Kelly Epskamp cautions that many juice-only cleanses lack the fat and nutrients our liver needs to do its job properly. “The liver needs nutrients to detox. It detoxes in two phases and needs different vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and amino acids – it functions better with food,” she explains.

“Start with the basics – the liver needs good fats, and in a juice-only fast there is no fat. Drinking two litres of water and eating two [portions of fruit] and five [of vegies] is a cheaper, long-term solution for your liver. It filters your blood – don’t stuff it around,” advises Epskamp.  

Common symptoms while on a juice cleanse can include headaches, diarrhoea, nausea, pimples, flatulence and bloating. These are the result of toxins stored in the system being releases into the bloodstream. “Generally, the chemicals we are exposed to are stored in our system in fat, sometimes for years, and yes they are released in a cleanse, but they are releases in a rush. That’s what causes the nausea. It’s good to support the liver but not in a rapid fashion. You can support it every day through food,” says Epskamp.

What to avoid

Dietitian Marieke Rodenstein warns against using too much fruit. “Fruit juice is a concentrated source of fructose and excess fructose can lead to a whole host of health issues. As a general rule, make sure your juices are 90 per cent vegie and 10 per cent fruit from low fructose sources such as lemons and limes.

10% – the percentage of Australian women who consume the recommended daily vegie intake

The verdict

So what’s the final verdict? Allowing your digestive system some rest is a good thing, but existing only on juices for extended periods can place other organs under strain. As always, the moderate path is best: incorporate veg-heavy juices into a wholesome food-based diet to add another level of goodness to your health regimen.

How to juice right

“Pack your juice full of vegetables. Dark, leafy greens first, then add vegies like beetroot, carrot, cabbage and celery, recommends Miller. To avoid disrupting blood sugar levels choose fruits low in fructose, such as green apple, kiwi and pear. Throw in alfalfa, coriander, parsley, mint, kelp, ginger and garlic for their detoxifying properties. For an extra boost, add oils like flaxseed oil or omega-3 oil. Psyllium husks are also a great way to add fibre to your juice to help clean the digestive tract and build immunity.”

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Also check out marieclaire.com.au for more health and wellbeing tips from marie claire.

Main image credit: Getty

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