Juice cleanses have been popular for quite a few years now, and although some people swear by their week-long diets of juice and wheatgrass shots, others claim that they’re bogus and a waste of time and money. With all this conflicting information, it’s hard to know what to believe when it comes to juice cleanses. Women’s magazines might tell you to avoid them, but it’s hard to ignore your friend’s glowing skin and vibrant energy.
So what exactly is the real deal with juice cleanses? Well, it depends on what you’re looking to get out of one. A cleanse is never going to be a magical cure-all, but it can have some positive effects on certain aspects of your health.
To decide if a juice cleanse is actually good for you, it’s important to consider why you’re starting one in the first place. We consulted with some experts, who weighed in below on whether or not a juice cleanse is actually good for you, depending on your goal.
One of the most common reasons people try a juice cleanse is to lose weight, but does it really work? The answer is a bit complicated. Many people do lose a little bit of weight on a juice cleanse because they’re drastically cutting calories and losing water weight. However, it’s not likely to stick, and it can even have the opposite effect later on. “Juice cleanses may actually adversely impact your metabolism,” says Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, MS. “Once you end your juice cleanse, you may actually add on weight, since your metabolism has slowed down.”
Maybe you care less about losing weight, but are hoping that all that green juice will give your skin that dewiness you desire. Again, it’s not so simple. It is possible that your skin might suddenly look vibrant, for a number of reasons. Not only are you keeping yourself more hydrated than usual, but you’re likely ingesting more fruits and vegetables. Research from the University of St. Andrews shows that eating more fruits and vegetables can give your skin a “golden glow.” But there is a flip side: Drinking only juice may not be the best way to get all those vitamins and minerals from your fruits and veggies. “Some of these vitamins, like vitamin E, are fat-soluble, meaning that you need fat in your system to absorb them,” says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD.
If you’re someone who relies on takeout every day and never has a single vegetable on your plate, a juice cleanse can be a good place to begin to start incorporating plant foods into your diet. Plus, the rigid structure of a cleanse is what some people need to really focus on their health to begin with. “I’ve found that even though it’s extremely silly, the ‘cleanses’ are usually what incite people to schedule an appointment with me,” says Monica Heather Auslander, MS, RD, LD/N. But if you already eat a well-balanced diet, a juice cleanse is not necessary, and it can sometimes have the opposite effect. “By depriving yourself of all the foods you love, you tend to crave them more and overeat when the cleanse is over,” says Rizzo.
Some people swear by their renewed sense of energy when on a juice cleanse, but it’s not necessarily from suddenly being healthier. Instead, it’s likely from a sugar rush. “Juice cleanses contain more sugar than I consume in a week, or even more,” says Auslander. “You’re definitely going to feel energized from the simple sugar carbohydrates.” But many people also experience low energy and sluggishness, and this is because they aren’t consuming enough calories that they need to get them through the day. “While juice has some carbohydrates to give you energy, it has no protein and very little fat,” says Rizzo. “Without a balance of these three nutrients, it’s very difficult to feel energized or even have the strength to work out.”
It sounds great in theory: Eat only super-clean fruits and vegetables, and flush out all your body’s toxins with that abundance of liquid. But, it turns out, this concept is actually nothing more than a myth. “As long as your kidneys and liver are functioning, then there really is no need for a juice cleanse to detox,’” says Okeke-Igbokwe. “These organs have detoxification properties that aid in removal of toxins from the body.” So why do people feel so clean after only drinking juice? You can blame it on hydration. “Ever been sick and then received IV fluids? You perk up instantly from the fluids and hydration balance,” says Auslander.
Ultimately, if you do choose to do a juice cleanse, you want to make sure you take the proper precautions to make sure you’re doing it safely and staying as healthy as possible. Speak with your doctor first, and try to limit the amount of time you spend on a cleanse. “The longer you remain on the cleanse, the longer you are putting your body through unrealistic dietary restrictions that may also lead to certain nutritional deficiencies,” says Okeke-Igbokwe. “You really can’t obtain all the nutrients the body requires from juice alone.” Rizzo also suggests eating a bit of protein and fat with each juice. “Maybe a plain Greek yogurt with walnuts or some cottage cheese with almonds,” she says.