Plot Twist: Juice cleanses aren’t healthy

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Juice cleanses have been all the rage in the last few years. Trendy juice bars are popping up all over the place, and you’ve probably encountered an advertisement, celebrity or even a friend that told you a juice cleanse would rid your body of toxins, help with weight loss, treat an illness, minimize a hangover—you name it. And while fruit and vegetable juice can be a healthy addition to your diet, drinking nothing but juice for a few days or weeks isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The unfortunate reality is that a juice cleanse is more likely to endanger your digestive system than help it and there are far better, healthier alternatives.

Nutritionists are in near unanimous agreement that juice cleanses deprive the body of the protein, fat and calories it needs to function. Two such nutritionists, Caroline Cederquist and Lauren Blake, point out that most cleanses restrict people to less than 1,000 calories per day, when the average human body requires 2,000—twice that amount. And because these “calories from juice” are almost certainly lacking in protein, the body will start to break down muscle tissue to create much-needed energy.

So, the idea that a juice cleanse will help you lose weight is a total myth; even if you drop a few pounds while on the cleanse, you’ll gain them right back afterward, and maybe even a few more because your metabolism probably decreased in the process of consuming and breaking down fewer calories than usual.

Furthermore, any diet that consists exclusively of liquids will throw off the body’s natural balance of nutrients, possibly leading to illness. For example, juicing fruits and vegetables deprives them of their fiber, which experts agree can cause digestive issues.

But, of course, proponents of juice cleanses claim that they eliminate toxins from the body—hence the name “cleanse.” However, the human body habitually does this all on its own. The liver and kidneys draw any toxic or harmful substances out of the bloodstream and process them for the body to excrete. According to Dr. James Grendell, the chief of the gastroenterology division at Winthrop-University Hospital in New York, juice can help deliver nutrients to the liver that help it process toxins, but not any more than ordinary fruits and vegetables would. So if your goal is detoxification, just eating a healthy diet filled with fresh produce should do the trick.

The only real benefit of juicing is that it may encourage you to eat—or rather, drink—more fruits and vegetables, and that’s a good thing. But it’s not a reason to commit to a full-on cleanse and swap out all of your solid foods for liquids. Instead, focus on increasing your intake of fresh produce and whole foods, and if you really enjoy “drinking” your meals, try making smoothies—they’ll preserve the fiber and full nutrient content of whatever foods you include. And you can certainly keep drinking those cool juices as a supplement or healthy alternative to soda, but make sure you aren’t skipping meals in the process.