Resolution Rehab: Considering A New Year’s Detox Diet Or Juice Cleanse? Read This First

drinking juice

In U.S. News and World Report, dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman takes down New Year’s detox diets and cleanses (especially those involving only juices or expensive supplements). In the short-term, these diets are likely to be neither harmful nor beneficial, she says — so skip the expense and deprivation of juice fasts and detox regimens in favor of a healthy, whole foods diet.

“I believe cleanse marketers overstate their products’ health benefits, relying on a combination of pseudo-science and a flawed understanding of basic human physiology to sell them,” writes Freuman.

Juicing programs don’t actually “detox” anything. Marketers of cleanses throw around the vague term “toxin,” without providing any specifics as to which toxins their regimen is purported to remove. To be sure, we all encounter a host of toxins in our modern lives environmental ones like mercury, pesticides, and BPA; and food-borne ones like pesticides, PCBs, aflatoxin from peanut butter, and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) from charred meat. Our bodies even create toxins as metabolic byproducts of foods we eat, like nitrosamines from processed-meat preservatives or ammonia from protein (of both plant and animal origin). But I’ve yet to see a shred of scientific evidence to indicate that any ingredient in these juices—including lemons, herbs, green veggies, or cayenne pepper—has demonstrated any clinical utility in neutralizing or eliminating such toxins from the body at all, let alone doing so more effectively than the body’s own “detox organs” in the setting of a reasonably healthy, solid-food diet.

Meanwhile? Juice diets don’t normally support optimal functioning of the body’s detox organs, anyway — meaning your detox diet could be worse for detoxifying than simply eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Your liver, intestines and kidneys work together to “process toxic substances like alcohol and drugs into safe byproducts, neutralize and excrete the toxic ammonia that results from normal protein metabolism, prevent harmful carcinogens from being absorbed into the bloodstream, and remove heavy metals from the body,” explains Freuman.

“But to enable the intestines to trap carcinogens in the stool and escort them out, you need a steady flow of fiber. To support the liver’s ability to maintain an abundant supply of the mega-potent detoxifier called glutathione, you’ll want to feed it lots of sulfur-containing cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. To prevent damage to the delicate blood-filtering mechanisms in the kidneys, you’ll want to make sure your blood sugar levels stay low. In general, this type of dietary support for the body’s detox organs is not optimally achieved through a juice-only diet.

I so much want to share everything she said, but I’ve copy-pasted enough already, so go read the whole thing here. Freuman debunks a few more juice/detox diet claims and adds that “if you don’t have $60 per day to shell out for fresh-squeezed snake oil,” you should check in this week for her “common-sense approach to clean eating.”

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    • rawfoodbliss

      This article make me very sad. Fear mongering people out of doing something so good for themselves for what purpose? The average person is going on a fried food, alcohol, cigarette, meat, refined sugar and toxic food full of chemical additive binge every single day and you want to bag someone for having a few days of pure fresh juice instead? I’ve seen people come into detox resorts in wheelchairs and leave walking thanks to the power of juice fasting: also skin conditions healed, tumors/cysts shrunk, vision improved, constipation healed, blood sugars stabilized, mind cleared, female cycle regulated….and the list goes on and on and on. We need to encourage people to do good things for their body mind and spirit if we want a world with more healthy, happy people! Drink a green juice….it’s never going to hurt you and may actually help you (and no 2-page list of side-effects like in every drug ad you see on tv!!)

      • Lauren Lever

        Juice fasting from what I have seen from the documentary “Fat, sick and nearly dead” only really helps obese people get on track, and mainly it is for people that need that reset. You are right the average person does eat a lot of bad food, but for most people they have not screwed up there health to warrant a juice fast. The crux of this article, I think, is that if you want to be healthy eat healthy food and don’t deprive yourself.

      • Elizabeth Nolan Brown

        Yes, thanks Lauren. Since this is a health & wellness blog, most of our regular readers already tend to eat fairly healthy diets. And since this post is intended for our audience, not some nebulous Standard American, I think getting more particular than “juice good, fast food bad” is warranted. No one’s slamming anyone for “having a few days of fresh juice.”

      • rawfoodbliss

        Your article is calling juice ‘snake oil’ …how is that not a slam? There is no such thing as a ‘nebulous America Standard’….even so-called healthy people are getting hit with thousands of food additives every year. Refined sugar is hidden in everything, including the Greek yogurt that Dr. Oz promotes. Rates of diabetes, depression, cancer, infertility and heart disease are going through the roof. The ‘normal’ food that people are eating today is deprivation, which is exactly why they need a juice fast – to rebuild their mineral and vitamin reserve! This article is doing nothing but scaring people away from the idea that a juice fast may help them and I simply do not agree. In the same way you service your car regularly to prevent a breakdown, you should also service your body with an inner clean-out, reboot and detox of built-up toxins (and yes, they do build up, from toxicity in the air, water, food and negative thoughts!!).

      • Lauren Lever

        Your body has a liver and two kidneys to filter out any toxins. In some cases (namely when those organs are not functioning properly) juice fasts can actually be more harmful than beneficial:

    • Lauren Lever

      IMO, juice fasts (cleanse is such a bullshit term, anyway) are a complete rip-off. Just eat all the fruit, and you will feel full and not deprived, and your wallet won’t suffer either!

      • Alexandra

        Yeah, I go on a detox diet when I feel like I’m really bloated and the bloat won’t go down. (I don’t digest carby foods like pasta and bread too well).
        I don’t do a juice cleanse though, I just stick to fruits/veggies and proteins, and maybe one serving of healthy grains like quinoa for supper.

      • Lauren Lever

        Yeah, fast/restaurant food contains a lot of sodium, and in my experience I will be so bloated from that! Really most of the weight one is losing from lemon and cayenne pepper detox is from water retention. Nutrition and health seem confusing, but when you are knowledgeable about what you are putting into your body, it becomes a lot less murky.

      • Alexandra

        I get bloated from almost everything. Only way I can prevent it is JUST eating veggies. I’ve tried Beano, Metamucil, nothing works! And probiotics made me poop blood ):

    • Disco84

      Doing a fresh juice cleanse several times a year helps me to reset. I never do it for more than five days and it always makes me feel great and helps me to identify true hunger over cravings. While on a large scale the data might not support the medical benefits of juicing, certainly anecdotally and mentally it can benefit individuals who do not go to the extreme.

    • Lori

      It is unfair to bash all ‘cleanses’ simultaneously. I do one every January and it has nothing to do with starving myself or living off of juices (or any other one single food). The version of the cleanse that I use is one that merely limits me to fruits, vegetables, small amounts of lentils and brown rice/quinoa for two weeks. At the end of the second week, I can add protein (including meat/fish). I just need to pay attention to the portion and frequency. “The Cleanse” is just how I should be eating all of the time anyway. Most of the year, I do fairly well. Between late October and the end of the year, however, we have several family birthdays and holidays to celebrate and I end up consuming too much sugar.

      “The Cleanse” jump starts me each January. It gets me off the sugar and restores my healthy eating habits. The other benefit (besides health and weight assets) is that cleansing restores my palate. Most of us eat too much sugary and salty food. These foods destroy our taste for other whole foods. Once you ‘cleanse’ you begin to actually taste and appreciate healthy ‘real’ food again. It makes an amazing difference.

      Doing food detox does NOT have to be faddish, extreme, or even that expensive. You do not have to visit a spa. Just do it at home. And do your research. Doing a detox diet has nothing to do with starving yourself. You should be eating whenever you are hungry…but limiting yourself to high nutrition whole foods.