You know that feeling you get when you’ve been surviving on takeout and raiding the beer in your fridge suddenly catches up with you? That feeling that maaaaaybe you don’t feel all that great and you might be ready to make a change?
Juice cleanse companies know that feeling too, and that’s why you see so many of them marketing to you after especially fraught dietary times: around the New Year, after the Super Bowl, right before “swimsuit season.”
These companies argue that they can help you lose weight, boost your energy, and even enhance how good your hair and skin look. And they do this by telling you that all you have to do is consume something that you loved as a kid: juice!
But those are the promises of the companies trying to sell you their products. What do the experts think about juicing for weight-loss and, more specifically, the claims of juice cleanses.
To help sort this all out, we contacted plant-based chef and dietitian Alexandra Caspero, R.D. and a few other credentialed nutrition experts.
Juicing, Caspero says, is often associated with fasting—the act of restricting the total amount of calories that you consume during the day, sometimes in accordance with time periods.
“There’s something euphoric about fasting,” she says. “A certain population is drawn to it. I don’t recommend it, but I understand it.”
Here’s what you need to know about juicing for weight loss and whether it’s actually a good way to shed a few extra pounds.
What is juicing?
Juicing involves squeezing the pulp from vegetables and fruits to remove the fiber, the stuff that’s left behind in your juice machine, explains Caspero. (Smoothies, on the other hand, blend up the entire fruit, which retains the fiber). Some people add a shot of apple cider vinegar, which has been touted to boost weight loss.
Juicing diets, specifically, last one to three days, says Caspero, although rarely people juice for up to 14 days.
Is juicing good for weight loss?
Since weight loss comes down to eating fewer calories than you expend, and juicing severely restricts calories, juicing can help you to lose weight at least in the short run, says Caspereo. Whether juicing is a good idea for long-term, sustained weight loss is another story.
A small 2017 study of 20 people who juiced for three days found that they shed about two pounds, on average, and saw an increase in gut bacteria associated with weight loss. But weight loss isn’t necessarily fat loss, says Caspero: It’s usually water loss.
When you severely cut calories, you burn through your glycogen (i.e. carbohydrate) stores, which carry water with them. “I would never consider juicing a fat-loss diet,” she says.
Juicing fans also often claim that it helps you to “detox.”
Yes, fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants, which help clear out cell-damaging free radicals in your body. But you can get those same benefits from eating whole plants, Caspero explains. Otherwise, there aren’t “toxins” that you need to flush out by eating certain foods.
“We have livers and kidneys in our bodies that help us cleanse without requiring a restrictive, nutritionally inadequate diet,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D., creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table.
In the short-term, juicing may indeed give you a confidence boost for making a positive change. But if you deprive yourself for too long, you’ll likely gain the weight back as soon as you go back to your normal eating pattern, says Isabel Maples, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Dietitians say that bottom line, juicing for weight loss isn’t realistic or sustainable. “You’d be better off getting on a treadmill than getting a juicer,” says Taub-Dix.
Is juicing healthy?
Juicing can help you consume more produce, but it can also leave you hungry. Compared to a full sit-down meal, juice lacks protein, fiber, and fat. Chewing and digesting these nutrients takes time and increases satiety hormones, so you feel fuller for longer.
“It’s physically not as satisfying. You may want a bigger portion, so you end up getting more calories than you’re expecting,” says Maples.
While a couple of days of juicing is harmless for most people, say experts, longer juice fasts pose a number of risks and downsides:
You may be deprived of important nutrients
A well-rounded diet ensures you get all of the macronutrients and micronutrients your body needs. Restricting yourself to juice means you’re missing out on essential nutrients like vitamin B-12 and protein; over time that can lead to nutrient deficiencies. “In the long term, you’re not providing your body with the fuel it needs,” says Caspero.
Juicing may trigger you to overeat
Feeling deprived could lead to you to eat less nutrient-dense food, like brownies, when you complete the cleanse–or you may go back to your normal diet.
“Any time you make a drastic diet change, you may overcompensate later. And you definitely can gain the weight back,” says Maples. “Instead of learning to better manage your eating choices, juicing is just a quick and temporary fix.”
You’ll lose muscle mass
When you lose weight, you inevitably lose a bit of muscle mass. You can reduce muscle loss by eating more protein and working out. But juice doesn’t contain protein, and it’s so low in calories that you likely won’t have the energy to work out. “If all you do is drink juice for a week, you can lose muscle,” says Maples.
Your metabolism slows
You’ll burn more calories throughout the day if you have more muscle mass. So if you lose lean muscle from juicing, you’ll need fewer calories even at rest. What’s more, severely reducing calories for long periods of time puts your body into metabolism-slowing starvation mode.
“The body tries to conserve energy, so we don’t starve to death, as a survival technique,” says Maples. Most men, she adds, need at least 1,500 calories per day and many juice diets are well under that.
Your gut microbiome could suffer
Since juicing eliminates fiber—a prebiotic that supports gut health—a longer-term juice fast could negatively alter your gut microbiome. “You’re not giving your gut what it needs to populate the good bacteria,” says Caspero.
The right way to juice
For some people, juicing for two to three days max may help encourage them to eat more fruits and vegetables overall.
“Sometimes fasting feels good if you’ve been eating heavy or feel blah and want a jump start,” says Caspero.
Use mostly vegetables and up to two fruits per glass max, suggests Maples. Whether you add spices or vinegar is up to you—although don’t count on these ingredients to burn extra fat. “The only way to truly burn fat is through exertion,” Caspero says.
Beyond that, it’s a better idea to think of juice as an add-on to your diet instead of a meal replacement. Juicing can be a good way to eat more plants and stock up on vitamins and phytonutrients, says Maples.
Sip on green juice with your cereal instead of OJ, or have it for a midday snack instead of cookies or crackers.
A better long-term meal replacement? Smoothies, which contain fiber but are similarly easy to digest because it’s broken down, notes Caspero. Be sure to add ingredients like avocado, nut butter, flax seeds, tofu, or chickpeas for the fat and protein you need to stay full and satisfied.
The wrong way to juice for weight loss
A pure juice diet for any longer than two to three days—or frequent juicing—gets dicey, according to our experts.
“I worry about a disordered eating,” says Maples. “You may need to change the way you’re thinking about food.”
Also keep in mind that drinking orange or apple juice all day long isn’t a juice cleanse: Fruit juices tend to be loaded with sugar and empty calories that will leave you hunting for your next meal far too soon.
Who shouldn’t juice
Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have a chronic medical condition like diabetes or hypoglycemia before juicing for any amount of time. “The sugar in fruit could cause your blood sugar to soar,” says Taub-Dix.
It’s also better to avoid juicing if you have a history of restrictive eating or eating disorders, Caspero adds, as it may encourage disordered eating patterns.
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