To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse?
Two local dietitians weigh in on the pros and cons of a juice fast.
These days, it’s not surprising to hear of Hollywood’s leading ladies doing dietary cleanses. To lose weight for a role, Beyoncé once completed a “master cleanse,” limiting herself to herbal laxative tea, salt water and a concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Salma Hayek co-founded a company called Cooler Cleanse, which offers an assortment of organic fruit and vegetable juices and nut milks. And Gwyneth Paltrow endorses several detox programs and cleanses on her goop.com site.
So what is a cleanse? In short, it’s essentially a semi-fast, most often involving a juice-only menu. It typically lasts anywhere from 48 hours to 10 days or more, and enthusiasts insist it rids the body of toxins while causing the skin to glow and the pounds to melt away. But before you head to the grocery store to stock up on juicy supplies, proceed with caution.
Far from a surefire health booster, a juice cleanse or detox can actually be harmful. “You have to be careful because it can leave your body deficient in other critical nutrients, like those associated with healthy fats, proteins and whole grains,” says Janet Brancato, M.S., R.D., an outpatient dietitian and community educator at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood. “You also miss out on fruit fiber, which helps manage blood sugar levels, promotes satiety and improves bowel regularity.”
“With juice cleanses, you’re drinking a diuretic that usually includes laxatives,” adds Jacqueline Ehlert-Mercer, Ed.D., M.Ed., R.D. “You’ll lose a lot of water and electrolytes while depriving your colon of good microbes and bacteria. That’s not a positive thing to do.”
Because the weight you lose in a cleanse comes from fluids, “the pounds will likely come right back when you’re off the fast and eating normally again. You can get trapped in a yo-yo diet,” she cautions.
For a long-term weight loss or management plan, go the oldfashioned route—eat regularly but in moderation, limit salt and sugar, drink plenty of water and exercise daily, Ehlert-Mercer recommends.
Adds Brancato, “Certain populations, such as people with immune issues, the elderly and diabetics” should avoid juice cleanses entirely.
A time to juice
People often begin a cleanse to kick off health-related New Year’s resolutions, says Brancato. She believes it’s effective as a shortterm plan, no longer than a week.
“It’s a popular and quick way to start a healthful lifestyle or to begin a weight-loss program,” says Brancato. “People often feel sluggish or bloated after the December holidays, so they want to eliminate toxins and reset and restart.”
The benefits come from the daily increase in vitamins found in fruits and vegetables— the main ingredients used for the juices. Taking in more “greens” will also flush sugars from the body and potentially lead to a path of better eating habits once the cleanse has ended.
“The ideal cleanse,” according to Ehlert-Mercer, “is one that increases intake of organic fruits and veggies and offers plenty of fiber and vitamins.” The founder of Ramapo College’s Havemeyer Edible Garden, Ehlert-Mercer notes that one of the keys to an effective detox plan is fiber, which helps remove waste and toxins from the body.
Ehlert-Mercer, who has authored several studies on cleanses, also believes juice fasts are a good way to rid allergens from the body.
Both dietitians recommend that everyone, whether starting a cleanse or not, seek advice from a physician to determine the best weight-loss or detox plans.