Wendy Stone runs between 4 and 8 miles most days, teaches both Pilates and yoga at her studio in Walpole, and has eaten only whole, unprocessed foods and organic fruits and vegetables for years.
She did not turn to “juice cleansing” to purge bad habits, cure a disease, or to lose weight. After one of her clients came to class “looking radiant,” and raving about how awesome she felt after drinking only fruit and vegetable juices for three days, Stone, 41, decided to give it a try. She has been doing a cleanse once a month since August.
“At first I was fearful. I didn’t know if I could not eat for three days, or if I could go to work and not pass out. By the second day, I was irritable and uncomfortable. But by day 3, I felt great. I had a lot of energy, I felt svelte in my body and in tune. I had a sense of accomplishment,” Stone said.
Fasting is as old as the oldest religion and home juicing has been in and out of vogue for decades, but the recent trend of juice fasting, which typically involves subsisting on nothing but cold-pressed juice for three to seven days, has surged as companies have sprung up to make and ship the fresh juices, saving customers the time, effort, and mess usually expended when juicing at home. These packaged juices are ordered online and in most cases delivered to the customer’s door.
The idea is that when juice is extracted from the fruits and vegetables, leaving behind the pulp, the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes of the nutrient-dense liquid are more speedily absorbed. The companies’ websites claim that the benefits of a juice cleanse include weight loss, elimination of toxins, mental clarity, an immune system boost, and improved skin and overall health.
But some health experts are dubious.
“There is no good science that a juice fast can prevent, treat, or cure a medical condition, and it can be a complicating factor,” said Jennifer Nelson, director of clinical nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, adding that for diabetics or pre-diabetics a juice fast can be dangerous.
She also questions the need to “detox” the body through fasting. “Your body’s natural function cleanses itself of what you have ingested,” she said. “Our livers and kidneys are all good filters to get rid of toxins.”
Nelson said, however, that a three-day juice fast likely won’t harm an otherwise healthy person, and could be useful to break unhealthy eating habits.
While the health benefits of these juice cleanse programs are debatable, the growing popularity is not. The New York-based BluePrintCleanse, a major player in the trend, began selling its juice cleanse in 2007 and by 2010, had sales of $10 million, according to Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. Cofounder Zoe Sakoutis declined to give current revenues, but said the company continues to grow. An increasing number of celebrities are photographed with the pre-made juice bottles in their hands, and one, Salma Hayek, has even started her own juice cleanse company.
Locally, Lauri Meizler, founder of Newton-based Joos, which distributes its juices mostly through yoga studios, gyms, and wellness centers, said sales doubled last year, though she wouldn’t provide figures. And at Whole Foods, Roger Perrett, the grocery buyer for the North Atlantic region, said sales of the BluePrint juices have been brisk in many of the urban stores, with some expanding shelf space.
To preserve nutrients, juice companies such as BluePrintCleanse, Catalyst, Cooler Cleanse, Organic Avenue, and Joos use cold-pressure hydraulic methods of extracting the juice from organic fruits and vegetables to avoid adding the heat that occurs when grinding or blending. The companies also employ bottling and shipping practices designed to keep the juice from losing potency through oxidation.
The cleanse programs typically include six 16-ounce juices per day that are numbered in the order in which they are to be ingested, as well as instructions and online support. But the convenience is costly. With overnight shipping, a three-day juice cleanse costs upward of $200.
Juicing at home isn’t cheap either, says Stone, because of the necessary investment of a juice extracting machine — costing anywhere from $100 to $500 depending on size and type — and the large quantities of organic fruits and vegetables required. “To get 16 ounces of juice you are talking about pounds and pounds of organic greens,” she says. “When you make it on your own, it’s more time consuming — and I don’t think it’s any more cost-effective.”
Sakoutis says her idea for the BluePrint cleanse evolved from her experience with the raw food movement. “When you change the molecular structure of food, the body no longer is able to identify it and assimilate it the same way.” She says this applies not just to cooking food, but also to pasteurizing juices. “If you are drinking orange juice from Tropicana, it is not an orange from the tree. Your body knows it,” she says.
The idea of a cleanse is “to give your body a rest,” from digestion as well as the animal proteins, caffeine, alcohol, and highly processed foods that many people normally consume, Sakoutis says. “We are consuming these in quantities as never before. It’s not healthy and it’s not natural. Our bodies are not designed to digest Twinkies and Raisinets.”
Meizler, of Joos, has a slightly different model. Because of demand, she offers a three-day juice cleanse but doesn’t heavily promote it.
Instead, she tries to direct her clients to what she calls a “reboot,” to break bad habits and establish new habits. “A reboot, which can range from three to 21 days, includes Joos juices, but allows you to eat unlimited fruits and vegetables throughout the day, as well as one “sensible” meal at lunchtime and a salad or stir-fry at dinner. These programs include health coaching and start at $149 for three days — less expensive than the pure juice fast, because the company is providing fewer bottles of juice per day. Customers supplement with their own food.
A pure juice fast “is a sprint,” Meizler says, and can mess up your metabolism. “Anytime you deprive yourself of something, you want it back. If you fast, you go into starvation mode. Your body overcompensates.”
Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association), questions the popular argument that a raw vegetable and fruit diet makes the body more alkaline and thus resistant to disease. “It’s completely wrong and makes no sense.”
In reality, our body knows perfectly well how to neutralize everything we are eating. “Even if you ate nothing but Big Macs all day — even though that’s highly acidic and supposedly toxic — your body is going to figure out how to cleanse your blood.”
Nelson adds that the digestive track doesn’t need the “rest,” and in fact, works better when food is moving through it. Removing the pulp from certain vegetables also eliminates the phytochemicals that are found in the fiber.
The euphoria and mental clarity many juice fasters report on the third day of the fast isn’t about good health, Cohn says, but a simple result of starvation. “At some point your body shuts down that feeling of immediate hunger, you become lightheaded and dizzy, and that euphoric feeling starts to come on,” she says. “I work with a lot of anorexics, and they feel euphoria, too.”
She believes the primary motivation fueling the current frenzy isn’t health, but weight loss. She says the average person will lose about 5 pounds through the cleanse, but it will be mostly water loss, and easily regained.
“But if you can use it as a jump start — and some people have that personality — losing 5 pounds could be motivation to cleaner eating. It could be a positive thing,” she said.