After months spent indulging in holiday treats, the thought of clearing your digestive system might sound enticing: Reverse the effects of seasonal gluttony by replacing all meals and snacks with juices for three to seven days.
Companies that promote "juice cleansing" diets claim that they give the digestive organs time to rest and expel environmental toxins that the body collects from pesticides, food additives and unwanted bacteria. With Gwyneth Paltrow raving about these diets on her website and Salma Hayek launching her own juice diet company, these "juice fasts" are getting mainstream attention, but are they really good for you?
"I certainly have some concerns about what is put out there in the media with respect to the benefits of juice fasting as a quick effort at weight loss and detoxing," says Paula Schnurman, a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist at Thinner Wisdom in Henrico County. She says the fasting trend "feeds into myths and misperceptions that we have collectively with respect to digestive science."
The body does an excellent job of expelling toxins through the stool, kidneys, liver and sweat, says Tina Shiver, a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist at Lighten Up near Libbie and Monument avenues.
"When you go on a juice fast, all of those toxins are dumped into the liver very quickly, so you end up more toxic than you were before," she says. While Shiver admits to trying a juice fast when she was in her 20s, she doesn't recommend them to her patients.
"If somebody goes on a juice fast, they feel great because it's that high of not having any food in your system," she says. "But you end up losing a lot of water, weight-wise, and probably muscle, and not a lot of body fat."
Jim White, a Virginia Beach-based registered dietitian and spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says it's OK to use a one-day fast to jump-start a healthy eating program because of the confidence boost that comes from losing a couple pounds after not eating anything, but he doesn't recommend fasting for more than a day.
"It's not teaching long-term, lifelong healthy eating practices," White says, "which we all know is what really keeps the weight off over the long run."