Do you need to detox?
Juice cleanses are thought to drive out toxins. While it’s true that pesticides, air pollutants, medication waste and alcohol do call our systems home, we already have an incredibly efficient detox program: hitting the loo. “Your kidneys filter your blood to remove waste, and your liver breaks down harmful chemicals,” explains Robynne Chutkan, M.D., an integrative gastroenterologist in Washington, D.C., and author of Gutbliss: A 10-Day Plan to Ban Bloat, Flush Toxins, and Dump Your Digestive Baggage. “Urinating cleanses—or detoxifies—our bladder, and defecating cleanses our bowels.”
Unfortunately, she says, the Standard American Diet of high-carb, high-fat processed foods and scant plant protein and fiber overburdens the body’s inherent detox factor, resulting in difficult-to-pass bowel movements. Ironically, juice’s lack of fiber and protein makes it tricky for the body to form stool, which is why cleansers find themselves running to the bathroom with pre-colonoscopy frequency.
Regular exercise is another mode of detoxification, in a sense, because it stimulates metabolism, helps burn fat for fuel, and allows the kidney and liver to cleanse at a higher capacity, says Sacheck. “Plus, you feel good afterward and want to refuel with healthy foods.” Exercising on a cleanse? Not good. “The average 5-foot-5-inch, 150-pound female needs 1,400 calories just to lay around and keep her heart beating and brain functioning,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, founder of Capital Nutrition Group, in Washington, D.C. “The typical cleanse clocks in at fewer calories than that, so if you work out, you’ll feel light-headed and struggle.”
None of us would need a detoxification program if we weren’t “toxing” in the first place, Chutkan explains. Better to fill your tank with a plant-based diet heavy on green vegetables, beans, raw nuts and healthy fats, plus plenty of water, supplemented by regular exercise. “Do that 80 percent of the time and you can ‘cheat’ the other 20,” she says. “Most people develop digestive issues because they’re not getting enough phytonutrients from plants, not because of a slice of pizza here and there.”
A commonsense cleanse
If the challenge and fresh-start promise of a cleanse still hold appeal, Kalanick recommends a 30-day nutrition reset instead, focusing on eliminating gluten, sugar, dairy, soy and alcohol. “Go organic for produce, and choose hormone-free and free-range with proteins. It’s not as easy as buying bottled juice, but it’s a clean, sustainable diet with loads of fiber and protein, minus the big allergens and ‘toxins,’ ” she says. “Plus, you’ll emerge with tools that you can continue to rely on post-cleanse: a knack for making creative, delicious salads or the realization that gluten makes you feel foggy and irritable.”
To tap into juice cleansing’s main benefit—a liquid injection of nutrient-packed produce—feel free to grab a beverage every now and then, especially on days when your eating hasn’t been stellar. Avoid the sugar-laden cashew-agave-coconut varieties and seek out a veggie-based combo with less than 15 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving (like Evolution Fresh, available at Starbucks, or Love Grace juices, available at lovegracefoods.com), or make a smoothie at home, tossing in just one fruit, like a kale-celery-apple-lemon-parsley mix. “It’s a good way to get cupfuls of greens into you,” says Scritchfield.