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juice cleanse

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Grocery stores provide aisles of juices that can be used as ingredients in juice cleansing recipes that can be made at home. Of course, most people buy juice as a nutritional beverage in itself.

To juice or not to juice? Experts and juicers weigh in on the diet and detox regimen

by Jaclyn Voran
Oct 17, 2013

Juice cleanses offer the promise of losing weight fast with anywhere from three-day to month-long restrictive diets of eating - or drinking - nothing but juice. Touted as a way to detoxify your body, as well as drop pounds, the trend keeps growing in popularity, despite lack of conclusive evidence of benefits.

“There’s not a lot of reputable studies on juice cleanses because they’re not recognized as something that’s a healthy option,” registered dietician Holly Herrington said. “It’s a kind of dangerous option.”

Herrington said she informs clients who ask about cleansing about the downsides. While they may drop a few pounds quickly, they’ll gain the weight back – and then some – when all’s said and done.

“There’s not a magic property in cleanses to make you lose weight or to increase any kind of health benefit,” Herrington said. “Anybody who’s taking in that low amount of calories – whether it’s on a juice fast or it’s just by eating Twinkies for a thousand calories – will lose weight in those couple days. You’ll lose some water, you’ll lose some fat too, but really you are losing muscle.”

The body becomes protein-wasting when it doesn’t take in enough of the nutrient, causing muscle loss, according to Herrington. The weight will come back quickly following a cleanse or other low-calorie diet, but even if you just returned to your pre-diet weight, your body will look different because it will return as fat, not muscle, unless you’re working out like a body builder, Herrington said.

The cleanses involve drinking a set of five to six juices every few hours. To get the ingredients, you have options: pre-packaged juices shipped to your doorstep, made-at-home recipes, or readymade blends for pick-up at a retailer.

Elise Arensberg, a human resources specialist in Kansas City, said she never thought she would be a “juicer,” but after two cleanses, she bought her own juice blender to use at home. She now juices regularly and says she has lost 12 pounds since June.

“I could kind of feel the difference, and I knew it was healthy, so it incentivized me,” Arensberg said of her first cleanse. “I do it now, and I don’t necessarily think of it as a cleanse. It’s a way to get nutrients from vegetables I normally wouldn’t eat. I’ll make two batches of juice, but it goes bad within a few days, so it just kind of naturally happens that I drink a lot in a short timeframe.”

Arensberg credits her success with juicing to her attitude and approach.

“I was very casual about it so I didn’t freak myself out about not being able to eat this or eat that,” Arensberg said. “There definitely should be a balance. I don’t think someone should just juice all the time.”

Herrington cautions people to be wary of promises for instant weight loss and increased energy that some cleanses promote, but she acknowledges that juicing can have an upside.

“I don’t want to completely knock a juicer because, for people who do not like eating fruits or vegetables, a juicing machine can be a good way to supplement that food into your diet,” Herrington said. “So we talk about it as a supplement. We’re filling in the holes in your diet.”

Cleansing can be less about weight loss and more about healthy living for some, such as Gold Coast resident Brooke Badzin, a marketing professional who’s done two three-day cleanses over the past year.

“It was right around the New Year, and I just wanted to do something good, kind of detox my body a little bit,” Badzin said.

But the purpose of the liver and the kidneys is to do just that, according to Herrington. The body is actually set up to detoxify and cleanse itself on a daily basis, she said, and the idea of cleansing yourself may just be a gimmick.

A three-day juice cleanse can set you back up to $200 or more, and the problem, of course, is that it’s not sustainable – financially or nutritionally, Herrington said. The body’s protein and carbohydrate stores go down, depending on the type of cleanse, and the electrolyte balance starts to go off, Herrington said, making a person nutritionally off balance.

Herrington acknowledges that increased fruit and vegetable intake is good for you. But she said she advises clients to save their money on expensive cleanses and juicing machines by just adding more into their diet. And for weight loss, Herrington recommends limiting calorie intake.

“If you just did three days of a low-calorie diet where you’re actually eating, you’re not going to feel as deprived and as hungry,” Herrington said. “And after the third or fourth day you’re not going to want to take someone hostage to eat a piece of pizza.”