By Michelle October; Photography by Josep M Suria/Freepik
What you need to know before you sip away those extra kilos.
The premise is simple: drink nothing but juice for a few days and your body will naturally rid itself of nasty toxins. That’s a juice cleanse. And from what we’ve heard you’d swear it was the Philosopher’s second Stone.
Think: ridding yourself of cellulite, eliminating wrinkles, preventing disease and, best of all, losing a whole lot of weight! You’ll emerge from your cleanse radiant, glowing and kilos lighter. At least that’s the promise…
“You’re taking what’s in nature and putting it in its most digestible, absorbable form,” says Tim Spence, owner of Cape Town juice and health bar Orchard On Long. And it’s not just fruit that can be freshly juiced, but veggies too. Several svelte WH cover stars have taken to the trend, including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Jessica Alba and, of course, Goop goddess Gwyneth Paltrow. But juice cleanses have been under fire lately, with multiple reports claiming that they not only flush excess weight, but may compromise bodily functions too. Added to this, the lack of empirical research means the scientific jury’s still out. So, do you invest in that shiny new juice machine or not?
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1 The Good Stuff
There’s a romantic idea among juice devotees that we need to deviate from our current diet and move towards raw, unprocessed food. “Every day we’re putting the wrong stuff into our bodies. Your body wants to be in homeostasis – a natural balance. But 99 percent of the food that’s out there is all contaminated,” says Spence. And he’s not far off. The South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that we’re eating empty kilojoules – lots of food, none of the nutrition. Fizzy drinks, doughnuts, fried foods, chips… They’re all top sources of empty kilojoules, filling you up, padding your hips and giving almost nothing else to your body in the form of vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.
Cue the premise of a juice cleanse. In one easy sip, you get a concentrated dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. And, if said juice was cold-pressed, produce is brought down to its purest, most absorbable form. In fact, to get the same amount of nutrients from a premium cold-pressed beetroot-based juice, you’d have to eat close to four kilograms of vegetables, says Stuart Dotchin, general manager of urban juice bar Cold Press in Cape Town. There’s also the fact that nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream much faster in liquid form.
“A solid meal takes three to four hours to digest in your stomach and is then released into the small intestine, while a liquid meal will digest much faster, taking only one hour,” explains Catherine Day, a registered dietician and lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s Division of Human Nutrition. The way the juicing is done is also important. Cold pressing, for example, involves placing the produce in a cotton bag and pressing it to squeeze the juice out. “By doing that we get five times more nutrients out of it than if you were blending it,” says Dotchin. All sounds great so far, right? So… Where’s the problem?
Read more: Avoid These Rookie Juicing Mistakes
2 The Dirt On The Cleanse
The issue often arises with the juice-cleanse regimes people adopt and the reasons behind them. Many women think of juice cleanses as diet alternatives for shedding kilos fast. Guzzle six or seven bottles a day, in a prearranged series for three to 10 days, and presto – you have a smaller waist. So much easier than weighing and measuring portion sizes. But downing your meals for days on end can result in all kinds of trouble. For starters, cold-pressed juice contains a low number of kilojoules. Which is a good thing, right? Well, not if that’s all you’re consuming. Kilojoules are how we measure the energy your body uses to function. Take in too much and you’ll store it (muffin-top alert!), but take in too little and your body won’t have enough energy to get you through the day.
In one case, a woman made it to day two of a juice cleanse before landing in the ER. “When I told my mother what I was doing, there seemed to be some generational gap. ‘No solid food for three days? So it’s like a voluntary stomach flu?’ she asked,” says Sarah Bennett, whose story was featured on the Side/Dish blog. And there’s no denying the similarities. Sarah lost two kilos in under two days, felt faint and, by 7pm on the second day, had taken up permanent residence in the bathroom. “My juice cleanse from hell ended at 3am with emergency medication from a nearby hospital,” she recalls. The CEO of the company where Sarah bought her cleanse later commented that it’s normal for some people to experience headaches, dizziness, moodiness and extreme tiredness.
As for the weight loss, you’re cutting out food groups, so naturally you’ll lose some weight – because you’re not eating. It’s a very low-kilojoule diet to follow if all you’re having all day is juice, says Day. “All you’re having is liquefied fruit and veggies – so all the weight you lose will be in the form of water and muscle mass.” Plus, your body freaks out and starts storing all food as fat for later, which can make losing weight harder in the future. So, once you’re off the diet and start eating again, you may gain all that weight back. “People are not able to sustain a juice diet and it often leads to binge eating and unhealthy choices,” says Day.
And, because the juice is concentrated, it contains higher levels of sugar than you’d get from eating whole fruit. One study published in the British Medical Journal found that nurses who ate whole fruit, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, were less likely to get type-2 diabetes than those who drank fruit juice. In fact, the fruit juice put the nurses at higher risk for the disease. And we’re not just talking OJ.
“Carbohydrates (including sugar) are found in all fruit and vegetables. These sugars are in the form of fructose, glucose, fructans and the like,” says Day. There are other side effects. These include an increase in your risk for gallstones, fatigue, diarrhoea and menstrual irregularities. So, what now for you and your imminent juice cleanse?
It’s all to do with how you go about your cleanse and there are a number of factors you need to consider before, during and after.
First up, don’t do it for too long. It will make you sick. “You’re taking a healthy product and using it unhealthily,” says Dotchin. “We feel a five-day cleanse pushes the boundaries of what’s healthy,” he adds. Anything longer is bad news, full stop. Cape Town-based dietician Carey Main agrees that long-term cleanses put you at risk for electrolyte imbalances and nutritional deficits. The key here is to differentiate between a juice cleanse – all juice and nothing but the juice – and juicing, which is incorporating healthy juice blends into a balanced diet, like downing a green juice for breakfast or as a snack. “Juicing is a good way for working women to get in their fruit and veg intake with their busy schedules, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a diet,” warns Main.
Dotchin and Main have a point – the drawcard of juicing might not lie in the promise of weight loss at all, but in the imbibing of much-needed nutrients. When we started, it was about getting all those antioxidant-rich cruciferous greens and beetroot into our systems first thing in the morning – so really more of a juice-a-day institution, say Philly Grundlingh-Miles and Kelly-Anne Kearns, juicing enthusiasts and co-owners of Pressed Juice Co in Joburg. Former corporate drones, their lives were turned upside down when Grundlingh-Miles’ husband, Rupert, was diagnosed with stomach cancer. For him, juicing was a way to get much-needed nutrients into his system, since the cancer had driven his digestion system out of whack. Unfortunately he didn’t win the fight, but it introduced her to the notion of using juicing as a way to get in all the vital nutrients she needs. We tend to have a splurge and-starve culture with food: eating unhealthily and then hoping a juice will cancel out the binge, but that’s not what it’s designed to do.
“You’re stupid if you’re looking at it as a weight-loss programme, because it’s doing far more to your body – it’s the ultimate nutrition, it’s a lifestyle,” says Spence. For him and other juicing followers, the most important thing to remember is that your body should be your chief decision-maker. “I think everybody’s got their own needs, requirements and goals in life and you’ve got to focus on those before you apply juicing to your life. For the most part, juicing is not about being all-in or all-out,” he says. It’s also not an elixir for weight loss – sadly. Instead, suggests Dotchin, try using a short juice cleanse to kick-start your weight loss – and a healthier diet plan overall.
So now that you’ve got the lowdown on juicing, are you looking for recipes to try? Make this delicious apple, beetroot and ginger juice.